VMA’s 2012–Best Choreography

[Update: Want to know who won? See my post-show assessment here]

Hey! Important event in popular dance tonight—the VMA’s, MTV’s annual music video award show. There’s about 16 categories, so I’m not going to go through all of them, but I thought I’d run you through the 5 videos (well, actually their choreographers) that were nominated for “Best Choreography in a Music Video.” You can see the rundown here.

I’m on my way to a friend’s house to watch the show, so this is just a quick run-through. A little history: the VMA’s started in 1984, and the Choreography category has been awarded every year since (other categories have come and gone.) Michael Jackson’s Thriller (Choreography by Michael Peters) won the first year, and a range of choreographic styles have won since then. See all the winners here.


Performer: Avicii Choreography: Richy Greenfield & Petros Papahadjopoulos Summary: Bored 80s office worker is overcome by energy wavin’ poppin’ and lockin’ through his body + dorky toprock, and guess what, it’s contagious. Surprise: Non-dance surreal lyric interlude. References: Napolean Dynamite, Michael Jackson Big Q: Is freestyling choreography?


Performer: Beyoncé Choreography: Danielle Polanco, Frank Gatson Jr., Beyoncé & Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker (<–DOES ANYONE SEE THAT?!?! Check here and here to see why I’m shocked but it’s a pragmatic move) Thoughts: I have a hard time thinking about this video; on one hand it’s totally incoherent as its own aesthetic production, on the other hand the original de Keersmaeker choreography is on beyond gorgeous…I think one of my friends put this perfectly; “Countdown” belongs in the ‘adapted screenplay’ category, not ‘original’ (although I’m not sure they adapted it all that effectively…)

“Turn Up the Music

Performer: Chris Brown Choreography: Anwar ‘Flii’ Burton Summary: Chris Brown takes a futuristic cab to a dance party in the street…and other ambiguous music video spaces. Styles: Unison House/New Jack Swing plus that Afro-Carribean elasticity swag that all the cool kids are doing. References: MJ meets Usher meets Men In Black meets Gene Kelly. Verdict:  Impressively high energy, very of-the-moment, virtuosic performance. 

“Dance Again”

Performer: Jennifer Lopez f/ Pitbull Choreography: JR Taylor Summary: Orgiastic art deco meets the title scene of GoldfingerVerdict: Wait, there was choreography? Oh, you mean the awkward Dancesport moment in the middle? Big Q: How do you evaluate choreography if the dancing is terrible? But seriously, the mass squirming is way more gorgeous than any of the ‘dancing’…and I like JLo. Sidenote:  the ads that play before this video are always in Spanish!


“Where Have You Been”

Performer: Rihanna Choreography: Hi-Hat (amazing and prolific) Summary: Rihanna as Mami Wata/Orientalist wet dream. Styles: Hip/House, the afro-funk styles like Kwaito, Azonto, Kuduro, with hints of Belly Dance and traditional West African movement; it gets into the hip flexors in the lushest most fantastic range of motion. References: Anaconda, Indiana Jones, Indian and Aboriginal iconography. Big Q: I’ve been meaning to write about this for a long time and there’s a lot to say, but briefly put, can essentialist and exotic symbolism and iconography be reclaimed reproductively by/for postcolonial bodies?


Despite some political hesitations, I pick “Where have You Been”–most innovative, varied, rich choreography, and the most well performed (although I know that’s technically not the category.) 

What do you think!? We’ll find out soon. Happy Watching!

[Update: Want to know who won? See my post-show assessment here]

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]