During week three in my HE1 Cultural Approaches to Theatre, Vernacular and Media Dance module, I was engaged in a discussion with my students about the socially constructed antagonism between so-called “high” versus “low” art. In this tug of war, dance in a theatrical setting where one pays money, sits quietly, watches intently and then applauds at the end, is considered “high art.” Dancing in social settings—home, park, public halls—gets relegated to “low” or popular art. Fortunately, the field of critical dance studies has scholars working to dismantle this unproductive hierarchy and open up the possibility for all types of dancing and dance making to function as “art.”

A fan of dance in music videos since the 1980s (I am the original MTV generation), I like to bring them into lecture especially when they feature unconventional choreography. Thus that day, my students “met” Wayne McGregor and a dancing Thom Yorke from Radiohead. Wayne McGregor is Resident Choreographer for the Royal Ballet and Artistic Director of his own company, Random Dance. His choreography tends to feature fast, restless, asymmetrical balletic lines. Critics have called it “relentlessly inventive” and full of “shimmering possibility.” Radiohead are a British alternative rock group known for their experimental sound. For the first single, Lotus Flower, off of their new album, The King of Limbs, Wayne McGregor choreographed Thom Yorke in a black and white video directed by Garth Jennings. Yorke dances alone, wearing a black bowler hat, crooning to the camera while stylishly flailing his own limbs around. My favourite part is when he lifts his arms slowly to remove his hat and you can see his underarm sweat stains and his matted, damp hair. Yes, dancing is work and requires physical effort; it need not just be pretty to watch.

My students had mixed reactions to the video. Some said it wasn’t “dance-y” enough, others thought it was “cool,” while others recognised a compositional structure. In the end, I wanted them to think about how this artistic collaboration through the medium of music video sets into motion a discussion of popular culture, “high art,” and choreographic practice.

See what you think here.

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