How do you dance like Fred Astaire?
Ballet superstar Mikhail Baryshnikov praised Fred Astaire’s “perfection,” and celebrated choreographer George Balanchine called him “the greatest dancer in the world.” Replicating the casual elegance and grace of the most acclaimed dancer in film history is “about the most difficult task in dance,” said American Contemporary Ballet’s artistic director, Lincoln Jones.
Yet it’s the task Jones assigned Joshua Brown, the lead dancer in ACB’s “Astaire Dances III.” In the third iteration of the show, the company performs step-by-step re-creations of Astaire’s choreography set to live music.
This year the production includes “Something’s Gotta Give” from the 1955 musical “Daddy Long Legs,” featuring Astaire and Leslie Caron, and “Night and Day,” an Astaire duet with Ginger Rogers in the 1934 film “The Gay Divorcee.”
Although Astaire’s style — the nimble and quick footwork and weightless slides — is not technical, re-creating his dancing for the stage requires a high level of musicality and nuance, Jones said.
Brown described the experience of stepping into the role as “an extreme case of impostor syndrome.”
The 29-year-old grew up studying ballet in New Zealand and Australia and has danced with Miami City Ballet and Los Angeles Ballet. As a child, he took one tap class but remembered it being “traumatizing.”
Although Brown was casually familiar with Astaire, it wasn’t until he was cast in the ACB show that he took a deep dive into Astaire’s work. For each number, Brown dissected the steps in videos, analyzing Astaire’s exact body placement. He called the process “a really daunting task, just the sheer amount of steps that are packed into each of them.”
To bring the ballet company up to speed on Astaire’s lightening-quick partner turns and footwork, Jones brought in ballroom and tap dance coaches to rehearsals.
As a lifelong ballet dancer, Brown said it was important “being open to not knowing a step and going back to that learner’s mentality. It was humbling to say the least.”
When: Fri. 8 p.m., Sat. 5 p.m., Sun., 2 p.m.,
Feb. 13 - 8 p.m., Feb. 14 - 8 p.m., Feb 15 - 5 p.m. and 8 p.m., Feb. 16 - 2 p.m. and 5 p.m.