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Vandamm, The Great American Revue

"Hey Up There" Looking Down on Dancers

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Dance scene rehearsal., Digital ID 498824, New York Public LibraryFine & Dandy rehearsal“Hey up there”

Broadway precision chorus lines were a staple of musical comedies and revues. A straight line of precision tappers, kickers or steppers could excite the audience in the orchestra, looking slightly up, or balcony, from which they were looking slightly down. But Broadway-trained Hollywood dance directors were giving audiences a multitude of angled points-of-view thanks to cameras and booms.

In the 1930s, the Vandamms went all out to give revue producers rehearsal images that equaled Busby Berkeley’s camera effects. More accurately, they went all up and around. The photographer—and my guess is that this was Tommy—went up the side lofts or catwalks to shoot down on dancers and dance director. These were rehearsal shots, with performers in rompers or shorts, in which effort replaced precision.

The photo here, taken at a rehearsal of Fine and Dandy (1930), looks down at dancers on a flat stage. The musical, best known now for the score by Kay Swift, had dances by Dave Gould, who soon left for a Hollywood career, and Tom Nip. There are many examples by Vandamm combining the elements of number of dancers, number and depth of platforms and placement of the photographer. The most spectacular, for me, shows dancers leaping down from wide Platforms in a George White Scandals of 1935 rehearsal. It was featured in The Great American Revue exhibition and can be seen in the brochure (PDF) online.

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