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Milos Forman's new movie, Amadeus, based on Peter Shaffer's play about Mozart and his rival composer Salieri, has taken flak for its lack of authenticity with respect to Mozart's life and career. One thing that does feel right about it, however, is the analogy it draws between dancing and exuberant life. In The Classical Style, Charles Rosen writes of the important effect that dance phrasing had on eighteenth-century music -- notably, in the change from the continuous, driven Baroque line to the periodic disposition of melody and rests to accommodate the way steps were clustered. Forman and Shaffer (who rewrote his play for the screen) don't get down to this level of subtlety, but they do link dancing with Mozart and physical vitality, while Salieri, the traditionalist, is presented as cautious, cold, inclined to suppress his natural impulses.

The choreography and staging of Mozart's operas in the film is by Twyla Tharp, for whom authenticity doesn't seem to have been a priority, either. (For that, I recommend the revivals of eighteenth-century operas and ballets that the New York Baroque Dance Company and Concert Royal co-produce in New York from time to time.) Yet Tharp has managed to come up with one vivid effect after another. She is well supported by the wonderful sound of the Mozart operas conducted by Neville Marriner, by the richly inventive stage decor of the distinguished Czech designer Josef Svoboda and by the operas' setting in the jewel-box Tyl Theater of Prague. A group ballet for Abduction from the Seraglio features lightly costumed male and female pirates strutting into the air-turns, splits, tossed lifts and loose movements that virtually constitute Tharp's signature. In the last scene of Don Giovanni, Tharp has the statue of the murdered Commendatore arrive at the Don's banquet hall for dinner ("You invited me, Don Giovanni," sings the statue, "and here I am") by bursting stiff-kneed through a wall, like Boris Karloff's monster in Frankenstein; later in the scene, a circle of dancing monks lash burning whips in figure eights. Elsewhere, in a period pastiche of several Mozart operas, the statue's entrance is parodied by a dwarf seated on a horse. Everywhere, it seems, someone is crashing an elite party or dropping in out of the blue.

When I came home from the movie theater and listened to Mozart's "Jupiter" with these images in mind, the music did sound different -- younger, more volatile, impelled by an almost mythic energy. Forman's Mozart (Tom Hulce) bears more than a passing resemblance as a character to the hippie hero of Forman's movie Hair (also choreographed by Tharp), and although he's never convincing as a musical genius, he does give you some inkling of the audacity that Mozart the freelance composer must have had to spare. For that, the audacious energy of Twyla Tharp seems authentic.

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Title Annotation:the use of dance in the movie
Author:Aloff, Mindy
Publication:The Nation
Date:Dec 22, 1984
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