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Those Mysterious Shadowy Dancers

This post answers a question about the image that the Library’s web page has been using when it highlights the Vandamm exhibition, Pioneering Poet of Light. I was thrilled when the web editors selected it, since it illustrates the title so well. So, here’s an extended caption, with musical accompaniment.

Composite (12 Shots)., Digital ID 1148360, New York Public LibraryThree’s a Crowd was a revue, presented in the 1930-1931 season. Like The Band Wagon in last week's post, it was choreographed by the brilliantly innovative Albertina Rasch and paired a young Broadway/vaudeville veteran with a European ballet dancer. The shadowy figures here are Tamara Geva and Clifton Webb. Webb was a lithe, inventive example of what was then known as snake-hip dancer and comic, who ended up in Hollywood as a star character actor. He had a mature face even when young and retained his tightly controlled movements, when middle-aged. That explains why, even if you didn't recognize Webb, you have been consumed by the inexplicable need to see Laura each time you see the shadow image. The web page image is cropped closer than the image in the Digital Library (ID# 1148371) so it represents the way that the audience would have focused on what they saw on stage.

The image with the blog is a composite of images from act II sequence, a musical reprise of the ballad, and now jazz standard, “Body and Soul,” which was introduced in Act I by Libby Holman. The dancers are within the frame at center stage, in what the NY Daily News called “a strangely lighted and effective set.” The program credits the lighting effects to director/lighting designer Hassard Short, and warned that they were “patented and protected.” You can find more of the individual images in the Digital Library (search Three’s a Crowd and Vandamm). My other favorite shows Webb kneeling and only the back of Geva’s extended legs, so he seems to be looking at a huge spiked heel.

By this time, like me, you have probably stopped obsessively humming “Laura” and started on “Body and Soul.” Two jazz standards in a blog about photography. I’ll try to focus on plays for the next post.


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