One of the most beloved and celebrated of all classic Hollywood films, An American in Paris is a visual masterpiece featuring some of the most stunning dance numbers you will ever see. Directed by Vincent Minnelli and starring the genius Gene Kelly, the film won six academy awards and is a continuous source of inspiration to me.
In addition to the infamous ballet at the end, my favourite sequence is where we are introduced to the many facets of Lise, a young French woman who expresses her personality to the audience through dance. As each of her traits is discussed by her older beau, Lise, played by the exquisite Leslie Caron, dances in the respective style contrasted against monochromatic set designs.
First she is an “enchanting girl” wearing a pale pink dress that pops against a royal blue set. The monochromatic set, despite being saturated in the deep blue, is overtly traditional with a vignette of a console with cabriole legs, an ornate mirror and heavy acanthus sconces.
Next Lise is an “exciting girl” in a bright violet dress against a demure pale pink set, complete with lush swagging drapery, skirted table and an open-back dining chair.
Then she is “sweet and shy” dressed in bright yellow pleated dress while dancing with a bouquet in a rich green living room, complete with an ornate mantel, panelled doors and many types of frames.
In the most sparse of the sets, Lise is “vivacious and modern” as she kicks up her heels in white fringe against a spicy red backdrop.
She “reads incessantly” in a preppy black unitard with a sharp white collar against a pale yellow library set, which includes a massive desk, oversized mantel, built-in book shelves and heavily carved columns.
Finally, she is “the gayest girl in the world” as she pirouettes circles in a sky blue tutu around a lavender set with feminine detailing, including an armoire, oversized harp and curved settee.
All these traits come together at the end in one final flourish that reconciles all her traits into one – what fun!