Rosas Danst Rosas and Beyoncé’s “Countdown”

Earlier today a very dance-literate fellow student wrote the following on my Facebook wall: “Have you seen the new Beyoncé video “Countdown”? She is showing her baby bump still moving and shaking it. The last 15 to 20 seconds is a direct quote from a Rosas Danst Rosas.”

This prompted me to do two things: try to find the newest Beyoncé video (not yet up on the BeyonceVEVO page), and watch Rosas Danst Rosas to try and see the connection. Let me tell you, once you’ve seen both, which I have brought together for you below, you cannot miss the connection!

Rosas Danst Rosas was choreographed originally as a dance for the concert stage in 1983, and is Anne Teresa de Keermaeker‘s most well known work. What I have posted below is a Dance for Camera version directed by Thierry de Mey, who was the composer of the original score. This film version was released in 1997 and features dancers from the second generation of de Keermaeker’s company, Rosas.

While the movement vocabulary of the stage and film version are almost identical, and some of this movement has been decontextualized and fit in to various parts of Countdown (see the shirt pushed off the shoulder at around 2:00 in “Countdown”), the full last minute uses not just the choreography but the cinematic aspects of de Mey’s film. The setting, use of the camera, light, and other aspects are recreated in Beyoncé’s video, directed by Adria Petty, who also directed Beyoncé’s “Sweet Dreams.”

There are certainly other influences and homages in “Countdown.” The colorful backgrounds and use of split screens index Richard Avedon’s famous portrait of the Beatles, Andy Warhol portraits, and the opening credits of the Brady Bunch. The all-black ensemble with cropped pants and exposed socks are being discussed in the blogosphere as references to Audrey Hepburn and Michael Jackson. [Both of these attributions, while accurate, work to obscure the choreographers who inspired the work and style of both of the above, as well as the choreographer of “Countdown”; Bob Fosse, Luigi, Jack Cole, and Jerome Robbins].

So it’s not to say that there aren’t other influences. And for some reason the brief referencing of other performances and people didn’t bother me very much. But to quote once more the friend who clued me in to the video and its connections to Rosas Danst Rosas, “Poor Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker doesn’t even get a choreography mention in the video. I applaud you Beyonce for using dancers in your video and they look awesome however, give credit where credit is due.”

This situation, like that of the use of verbatim Fosse choreography in “Single Ladies,” has me thinking about many questions, some of which are listed below:

Is ‘sampling’ part of Hip-Hop’s epistemology? Does the degree to which the replicated material is familiar to a wide audience matter? When is borrowing borrowing, and when is it appropriation? [Scholar Brenda Dixon Gottschild introduces the element of commodification into her definition of appropriation, which might be applicable here.] But isn’t replication a form of flattery? Does incorporating art known only to a small group into a media which will reach millions serve as an advance to that which is referenced?

What do you think?

Would all be right with the world if (1) the choreographer/dance director of the video were acknowledged? (2) the influence of de Keersmaeker was acknowledged (3) the dancers were credited?

To be continued! Please give me your thoughts below! [Update! I wrote a lot more about this idea in the abstract in this post: What Does Plagiarism *Feel* Like? More on the “Countdown” Conversation]


20 thoughts on “Rosas Danst Rosas and Beyoncé’s “Countdown”

  1. I am an ex-Rosas dancer and just to let you know that there are direct quotes from a piece called “Achterland” too – and the tight trousers and socks are not, in fact, referencing Audrey Hepburn, but “Achterland”… I think Anne Teresa should get her lawsuit on… 😉

  2. There is another work of Anne-Teresa that is heavily referenced also called Achterland. It’s a film directed by ATdK herself. Check it out.

  3. quoting myself from a facebook conversation going on ’round my parts:

    i was just talking to someone yesterday about these situations…about this one-upmanship of “ya ya, how obscure an art reference can you throw down in yo’ pop shit” trend (although i’m sure it’s been happening forever and ever, right now the pace is crazy because you want “obscure”? tappity tap tap into the internet box and bam. or ya ya, let me just hire some young art kid to show me the ropes and make me look cool all the while raping the original situation?)

    i don’t know…i keep vacillating between “so good for contemporary art/dance! so baaadddd for contemporary art/dance.” there are all kinds of elements in my feelings of being on a highhorse, not wanting shit to get watered down and made less special, but not wanting shit to be so guarded and sacred and wanting it to be democratized…age-old battles being intensified in these lightening-speed world wide web times.

  4. Pingback: beyonce does de keersmaeker « loveDANCEmore

  5. Hello,
    I don’t have a problem with the fact, that cultural artefacts or artists’ works are being used by other artists, who adopt, appropriate or even re-mix the stuff. It is a common artistic practice since the Romans, who copied the Greeks, or since the Greeks, who copied the Phoenicians.
    But I have a problem when I see, that Beyoncé – or her choreographer – doesn’t share his or her knowledge about contemorary dance with the spectator. This reduces the spectator to a pure consumer. Only those, who already know, get the chance to start searching for more (from Rosas). Clearly, Beyoncé and her team don’t copy a common style of dancing here, they copy two specific works of one company. They should let everybody know, giving credits to Rosas (and the co-producer of the works, Kaaitheater).
    Also, I have a problem with the fact, that Beyoncé will earn a lot of money with this video, while Anna Teresa de Keersmakers has spent months, if not years, to develop the choreographies with her dancers. Beyoncé should think about paying a good share of her income from the video to the company.

  6. Pingback: Beyoncé in de fout met videoclip — Cultureel Persbureau


  8. Beyonce is very vocal about her influences… She’s not stupid enough to use half a dance from an existing piece of work without giving royalties or credit.
    With so much bland music, why is this even controversial? I think Beyonce’s version is beautiful, and without it I wouldn’t even know about the original inspiration.

    • Jimmy, I certainly do not believe Beyoncé to be stupid- I am not even sure where I come down on the issue of this type of borrowing–I am approaching it as an example on which I can hang some theorization of issues of the Author, appropriation, and transculturation. That said, it took eight days from the release of “Single Ladies” to Beyoncé’s TRL appearance where she casually divulged the inspiration of Fosse’s “Mexican Breakfast.”

      There is no precedent for her or her directors procuring permission or offering compensation for choreography, and particularly in this case de Keersmaeker was not notified in advance.

      • I certainly understand the underlying argument, but frankly, I don’t think that “Single Ladies” is similar enough to “Mexican Breakfast” to warrant any more than an acknowledgement, in the same way that RIhanna and her creative team didn’t feel compelled to write Warhol’s name all over the “Rude Boy” video just because it served as inspiration. What I think it comes down to is… Warhol and Fosse and countless others are some of the most widely used inspirations in pop music today. No one complains about their usage, but when someone like Beyonce or Lady Gaga uses more obscure references in a more direct way, people complain credit isn’t being given. That’s where I disagree. She’s clearly paying homage to Keersmaeker and appropriating some of the moves, and recreating some of the scenes in the film. So what? That’s what happens in every music video.

    • If Beyonce had given due credits, why did she make and release another version of the video with all the Rosa danst Rosas sections cut out after the controversy? Why would de Keersmaeker have noted the video as ‘plagiarism’ in the first place if permission was granted prior to the video being made? Nobody is saying don’t sample other people’s work but there’s a difference between sampling and lifting; the latter Beyonce did, otherwise there wouldn’t have been any noise or suspicion in the first place. That is wrong, particularly as the suspected intention is that she did so from an ‘obscure’ source from outside America to not be detected.

  9. I speak from experience, as another dancer of Rosas, that the body of work that led to the films of Rosas Danst Rosas and Achterland being made was long and involved and should not be picked over casually for this rather insulting “obscurity” factor without even crediting the artists involved. Even an homage (and I agree this has been well-studied and reproduced (though not terribly well-danced)) should involve consent or at least notification (let alone royalties as mentioned by Jimmy), none of which were in place at the video’s launch. Or are we to believe that authorship and developing an oeuvre are over now? Of course it’s flattering to be quoted in someone else’s work but let the quotation be transparent somehow.

    • I certainly agree with you that the “notification”/”consultation” would have been nice.
      But I think it’s also a disservice to Beyonce’s creative team to call it cut & paste, when … if you watch the music video in its entirety (instead of the 30 second clip circulating on YouTube) you’ll see that it has easily a dozen other references. Should she also cut a check to Audrey Hepburn’s family for using a close-up shot? The Brady Bunch creators, too? You eventually get into a question of what inspirations and homage require royalties and acknowledgement and which don’t. And really the only strong argument I’m gathering from this particular instance is that Rosas is a well-respected work that not too many people without and art/dance background know about, and that some people personally feel Beyonce’s interpretation is too literal in some parts of the video. And I don’t think that’s enough justification for why Beyonce has to plaster Keermaeker’s name all over her video. Maybe a court would disagree with me, but I think we’re in murky water here.

      • Aside from Rosas danst Rosas (the more known Rosas film) have you seen the Achterland film Jimmy? It doubles the quotation time of the video and explains some of the Audrey Hepburn confusion. And yes, be open about all quotations, references and inspiration – and then let the work of your creative team shine out, if it still does.

  10. Pingback: VMA’s 2012–Best Choreography « ReadyMadeBouquet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s