Blog : Charlotte ConstableCan music save us after all?

Published on Wednesday, 6 March, 2013 | Comments


Charlotte Constable is a recent Choreography & Dance and Psychology graduate of the University of Winchester. She is currently watching, writing and waiting for her big break in dance criticism.

Quiet Riot

Saturday, 30 March, 2013

Men, Money and Other Musings

Thursday, 31 January, 2013

For the most recent Coda Dance Festival in Oslo Ballet de Lorraine from Nancy in France brought a new work from Norwegian dance maker Ingun Bjørnsgaard.

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It's not often the name 'Thom Yorke' is associated with contemporary dance. The Radiohead frontman performed a dance by Wayne McGregor with Random Dance's Fukiko Takase, in his new band Atom for Peace's recently released Ingenue. And I have to say, it's a fascinating watch.

Musicians who dance in their music videos are hardly a new phenomenon. Although I have always wondered how the puffer-jacket-wearing, spiky-haired boy bands of the 90s - and today's few equivalents - somehow end up total dance pros, choreographed to a T and all achieving perfect unison whilst no doubt miming in slow motion to their tracks. Just look at former contestant of ITV's The X Factor, JLS's Aston Merrygold - now a judge on hit Sky1 show, Got to Dance.

But of course, 99% of the time it's jazz or hip-hop or that commercial stuff. When you take a rock legend of sorts and direct him to duet with a trained dancer from one of the UK's best known contemporary dance companies, things get interesting. And Yorke's performance style is strangely engaging; raw, effortless, and totally him. Sometimes he moves absorbingly with eyes closed, just enjoying that free reign over the space. Sometimes he interacts with Takase, and in these movements, he does indeed give completely, surrendering his weight but not fussing so much about his focus. And Takase is the perfect partner, spiralling with swagger, beautifully androgynous in her suit. I digress.

What dawned on me in watching the work is how rarely contemporary dance meets current, popular contemporary music. Dancers and choreographers are not the subjects of gossip that they once were - musicians are. They are the familiar faces, the household names.

Thom Yorke is arguably one of the biggest musicians this country has ever seen. Through the growing awareness of his new band and his previous successes, we see a dance work which has raked up over one million Youtube hits in less than a week. For a piece of contemporary dance? Likely unheard of. Until now.

Could, then, musicians be a driving force in keeping the interest in contemporary dance alive?

P!nk is another chart-topper who left us dance students open-mouthed in her recent video for Try. The highly physical choreography by The Golden Boyz saw her running up walls, thrown onto a mattress and cartwheeling over her partner, Broadway performer Colt Prattes. The video now has over 61 million Youtube hits. (And, just to prove her capabilities, she and Prattes danced a version while she sang live at the American Music Awards. Not bad).

But do 'contemporary' choreographers really want to make dances for music videos? The dichotomy between that very commercial, highly exposed world and the quiet contemporary dance scene suggests not. Perhaps there is something alien about that level of fame; perhaps such choreographers just don't get asked. Those gigs are not the type on their CVs.

The logistics are tricky. But the statistics speak for themselves. All chart music is big. Contemporary dance is small. Not only small, but struggling - at least to communicate to those wider audiences. Maybe music can save us after all.

  • kEMA

    Hi Charlotte,

    Contemporary Choreographers have been making Pop Videos and TV Commercials for years. Any ad that has pedestrian based movement in will most probably use a contemporary choreographer and dancer.

    You just need to watch!!

    Rafael Bonachela did Kylie Minogue Tours

    More recently Robert Hylton
    You need to log in !!!
    Christina Perry
    Daft Punk
    Moben Kitchens
    Orange Mobile
    New Order

  • Charlotte

    Admittedly I had not seen these! That Robert Hylton one is brilliant.

    But I think what I was really trying to suggest is that contemporary dance can perhaps reach wider audiences if the big names are the ones performing it - not just the dancers in their videos, or in TV commercials. I'm talking about the ones which rake up the Youtube hits. If (in particular young) audiences see their music heroes doing something a bit different with dance, then how much more powerful will the influence be? Just watching P!nk makes me want to train harder.

    Then, with that in mind, maybe contemporary dance can grow in popularity, which in the long run might just help the smaller names practising the art form get more recognition.

  • Kema

    Hi Charlotte, Contemporary won't really get commercial recognition because it's too varied and hard to fit into one box that makes it comfortable for "normal" people to watch. Go on Youtube and look at "So You Think You Can Dance" Contemporary Duets; virtually every duet is a narrative dance with a man in a shirt (opened or buttoned) and the woman in a long shirt and knickers!!

    This open shirt man and big shirt and knickers woman has now become the uniform of the contemporary dance duet on TV.

    Unless commercial contemporary dance is telling a story that an audience can connect with it will be too high art for commercial success.

  • Charlotte

    Oh I totally agree - 'contemporary' is often assumed to be that story-telling, romantic type stuff, which of course it rarely actually is when not 'commercialised'! And I suppose P!nk's video does live up to that. But Atoms for Peace's does not exactly, which I think is why I was so excited to see it.

    It is a tricky debate. Ever since shows like 'So You Think You Can Dance?' and 'Got to Dance' have become popular in the UK, I have been increasingly aware of the lack of the kind of contemporary dance we are educated about being shown on these programmes - but I too realised that it does not have that commercial, communicative nature.

    I do not think it should be considered 'high art' - complex art, maybe. Abstract art? Perhaps. Nonetheless, the question of how to gain more interest and reach wider audiences remains.

  • Charlotte

    I agree - for example, to write this, I had to look up the name of P!nk's dancer, who is of course not a household name yet, and deserves equal credit for his incredible performance in the video. Music videos do have a temporal and very quickly dated nature, while the uniqueness of contemporary dance makes it more preservable in some way.
    That said, watching Ingenue was really refreshing as I discuss, and I would love to see more of this kind of movement in music videos in order to communicate to wider audiences the message of contemporary dance - not only what it is, but how beautiful and exciting it can be.

  • the disposability of almost all music videos might be a problem as would the complete lack of acknowledgement of dancers and choreographers in those videos who are not famous music stars.

  • kema

    Yeah true remember the big deal with Beyonce and Rosas Dance!!!

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