‘Instead of dance, it’s choreography,’ gripes choreographer Robert Alton 1

Dance · Film
danny kaye, ‘choreography’ number from white christmas (1954)

Danny Kaye, in the screenshot above, performs a send-up of Jack Cole‘s Hindu-Jazz in Robert Alton‘s “Choreography” number in WHITE CHRISTMAS (1954). The number is primarily a spoof on Martha Graham, and I imagine Kaye inserting this little fillip just for fun.

Kaye worked extensively with Jack Cole in ON THE RIVIERA (1951) at 20th Century Fox, in which Kaye starred. He sang and danced in several Cole-choreographed numbers, notably the artful and exquisite “Popo the Puppet.” Prior to that, he shared a bill with Jack Cole at the Chez Paree nightclub in Chicago. Danny Kaye, who was adept and athletic but not dance trained, went back with dance and dancers — notably with Jerry Robbins in their Camp Tamiment years.

Alton’s “Choreography” is an odd outlier in the context of WHITE CHRISTMAS, and may be interpreted as a sign of the times. I feel that Cole was the intended butt of the joke, although Alton frames the mockery in the language of Martha Graham. Alton was a great dance director, but somewhat less of a choreographer. He is good-naturedly airing that difference in “Choreography.”

The number reads differently to different eyes:

In “Choreography,” a musical number in White Christmas, Danny Kaye actually seems to mock the queer roots of the new dance directors, done up quite fey (he actually resembles Jack Cole), mincing and prancing about the stage.

source: Mann, William, J., Behind the Screen: How Gays and Lesbians Shaped Hollywood 1910-1926 (New York: Viking Penguin) 2001

One comment on “‘Instead of dance, it’s choreography,’ gripes choreographer Robert Alton

  1. Marilyn Klaus Jun 14,2020 1:28 pm

    A myriad of details — all in the service of wit! The expressions on the individual “Graham” dancers’ faces; their ponytails and costumes — the faux Noguchi sculpture/set piece — just everything. Good for Robert Alton!

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