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Music Made Visible



Leland Music's Katherine Melling takes a quick look at those designing dance moves to contemporary music

Music Made Visible

“See the music, hear the dance" ― George Balanchine.

Balanchine, considered the foremost contemporary choreographer, famously said 'dance is music made visible'. And I’m fascinated by the relationship between choreographed dance and music, and the way they combine to tell stories and elicit emotions.

Towards the end of last year I got the chance to see Michael Clark’s contemporary dance show to a simple, rock 'n' roll song at the Barbican along with the rest of the Leland Music team. Featuring music from Patti Smith and David Bowie, the standout section for me was a moving piece choreographed to ‘Blackstar’. Bowie is a particularly important inspiration for the 'enfant terrible' of contemporary dance but other rebels of pop music have had the Clark treatment; from the Sex Pistols and Public Image Ltd to The Fall, Relaxed Muscle and Scritti Politti.


Back in the office the show inspired some digging behind the scenes of a couple of recent videos, and we found some nice coincidences…

Eagle-eyed Max noticed that, in a neat piece of synergy, one of the dancers from Clark’s show, Harry Alexander, starred in the video for Jorja Smith & Stormzy’s recent collaboration Let Me Down. 45 seconds in and we see a graceful solo male dancer rehearsing, watched by assassin Jorja. Harry’s languid, classical moves reflect the sophistication of the track, and the choice of a dancer as the victim quickly establishes a sensuousness and physicality in the relationship, yet hints at vulnerability in comparison to Stormzy’s hard-man stare. The question is, does Harry live to dance another day? Well clearly, as he went on to win The Emerging Artist Award at The National Dance Awards in February. I wonder if he can sing?

FKA Twigs is a recent well-known example of a dancer who’s moved into being an artist, and she’s done it without side-lining the dancing. In fact I’m a huge fan of how she’s used it incredibly successfully to create a more interesting persona – she’s a full on creative force! The double Cannes Lion-winning ‘HomePod’ Apple ad of course showcases her skills brilliantly, and was choreographed by LA based Ryan Heffington. I love how her moves inflate with joy and confidence as an exhausting post-work day becomes an exciting musical evening at home. “…we can dance in the hallway…” intones Anderson .Paak… yes, yes we can if we have Siri. Here's a fascinating behind the scenes look at the ‘Welcome Home’ Apple HomePod ad, with Ryan and Spike talking about bringing in Twigs and creating the choreography 

Seemingly THE go to man for cool alternative choreography, Ryan has a seriously impressive list of music video credits including Sia, Arcade Fire and Florence and the Machine, as well as choreographing Olly’s story for the recent Years & Years concept album. I was also intrigued to find out that he created the fascinating sequence of moves intrinsic to the OA TV series, which remind me of Florence’s frenetic, religious fervour in ‘Delilah’ from The Odyssey. Compare and contrast at 1:46… 


And I love that the OA dance was so persuasive, some hopeful believers have attempted to send a message to Trump by using them outside Trump Tower … 

Read Ryan explaining (a little) the thought process behind the moves here

Tuning into a higher power is a pretty impressive ability to have as a choreographer! But the natural expressiveness of movement to music can definitely be used as a release, perhaps akin to a mind-altering state. A brilliantly moving, unsettling piece by Wynn Holmes shows, very much rather than tells, of the struggle of the Roma people against ingrained prejudice. Set to a haunting composition, ‘Pleme’ by Froda Kvinge Flatland, the dancers throw strong, angry but ultimately free shapes as a way of battling through their emotional issues and the constraints they feel in society. I can’t think of a better way to get the message across the language barrier. Having very recently visited Belgrade, where this is filmed, it struck me with particular force. Watch the film here.

Back in the UK, Brit Holly Blakey, who worked with Ryan Heffington on Florence’s ‘Delilah’ (nominated for an MTV Video Music award and winner of Best Choreography at the UK Music Video Awards), is managed by the same team as Wynn Holmes and brings edgy anti-establishment feminist concepts to her work. Although she was also responsible for the, dare I say it, very odd Coldplay video that sees them re-imagined as dancing chimps. Perhaps more interestingly she’s collaborated with many indie artists including Darkstar and Woodkid and helped the truculent bloody young chap in Young Fathers ‘Shame’ video get his dance on – which I’m interpreting as a fantastically artful way of giving the impression of an altercation.

Moving away from the bigger names in contemporary choreography I’ve noticed a couple of fresh talents who’ve used dance in recent music videos.

Electronic duo Rinngs collaborated with a Japanese choreographer and dancer Miyu Aikawa on their latest video 'Confession' after Miyu, a fan of the band, saw on Instagram that lead singer Nia was in her country and reached out. The feelings of an intense modern relationship are brought to life for me by the dancers mirroring each other against the contemporary urban environment back drop.

Meanwhile young London jazz duo Blue Lab Beats kept it in the family by using band member NK-OK's sister Taali Kwaten to add some fun to their latest single 'Oooo Lala', taking you from the East End realism into an alternative dreamscape for some smoooooth French vibes.

But of course, I couldn’t avoid including possibly the most talked about collaboration of pop music and dance so far this year - Childish Gambino’s ‘This Is America’. Absolutely mesmerising work from 23 year old Rwandan born Sherrie Silver. Over 300,000,000 views (at least 1 million of those are me) and countless column inches later the dancing in this video says so much more than literal acting or the lyrics ever could. I’m guessing there’s a few offers on Sherrie’s table right now for more work in the pop arena. Read more about the enterprising and inspiring choreographer here

Dance can be a short cut for getting a message across and a good choreographer clearly makes a difference – subtly adding layers of meaning quickly. Expression through movement has a universality that scripts and lyrics don’t, but of course, it’s difficult to dance when there’s no music. Intrinsically linked, the two together are a powerful creative force. Feel free to throw some more inspiring examples our way.

Katherine Melling is executive assistant at Leland Music

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Leland Music, Fri, 13 Jul 2018 15:54:48 GMT