Monday, April 30, 2012

Claire Danes is a mean CIA agent in Homeland but she is also a dancer

Like a large number of the US and UK's television-watching public, I am currently gripped by the TV show Homeland, starring the actress Claire Danes.

I've loved Claire Danes's sublime acting since first watching My So-Called Life back in the 90s (it was called Angela, 15 ans in France) and always thought we were not seeing enough of her around. My estimation rose further in the mid-2000s when I heard she did some dancing too, and some pretty contemporary stuff at that.

Danes started dancing at a young age, taking classes at Dance Theater Workshop in New York until the age of 14, and performed in a few dance pieces then, before moving to acting. Around 2004, she took up dancing again, taking classes with choreographer Tamar Rogoff, whose daughter had been a school friend. Danes ended up performing in two of her pieces: the solo Christina Olson: American Model in 2005, and the duet Edith and Jenny in 2007.

Claire Danes in Christina Olson: American Model. Credit Harvey Wang

Both sound like really interesting pieces: Christina Olson: American Model sees her portray the subject of Andrew Wyeth's iconic painting Christina's World, who suffered from muscular deterioration, could not use her legs but refused to be in a wheelchair. In Edith and Jenny, Danes and fellow dancer Ariel Flavin (Rogoff's daughter and Danes's old school friend) 'encounter their eleven year-old selves on screen, captured in their respective film debuts'.

Reviews were very positive about Danes. About the first work, The Village Voice said 'Make no mistake: she's a dancer. Those touching, dirty bare feet belong to a wise and sensitive body'. The New York Times wrote that the performance was a tour de force for the actress ('the great wonder of Ms Danes's performance, which draws on her early training in dance, is how she fills the stage with the kind  of ferocious desire to move freely that is suggested in stories of Olson's pride') and, when reviewing Edith and Jenny, said 'yes Claire Danes can dance'.

In interviews, Danes has talked about how good it was to start dancing again and how it impacted on her acting. 'I was thrilled to rediscover my body as a grown-up. I have a much more dynamic or three-dimensional sense of it now' she told Dance Magazine. 'I definitely think dance informs my action, whether I am conscious of it or not. When you become aware of your body, it's impossible to forget. I can tell which actors have a background in dance. Sarah Jessica Parker dancers in her acting. Kevin Bacon, too. Once it's been activated, it continues to operate unconsciously. It is an enormous resource.'

It's worth noting that Danes's relationship with Rogoff did not end after the second piece. Rogoff was movement director on the HBO mini-series Temple Grandin, which earned Danes an Emmy Award.

In a New York magazine interview in 2005, Danes said 'if a dance movie presented itself, I'd have a hard time turning it down. I wish Fosse were still around. That would be ideal.'

Now I'd like to see that! In the meantime, this Gap commercial, featuring a dancing Danes and Patrick Wilson, will do just fine.

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