You might not look to pop video clips for your contemporary dance kicks – but in fact, as Lise Smith points out, techniques, choreography, styles and ideas from contemporary dance have been a distinctive influence on the development and direction of music video.
Popular music and artful contemporary dance have rarely been easy bedfellows. Chart music might be uniquely capable of getting the masses moving every weekend in social spaces from ballrooms to warehouses, but contemporary choreographers working in the theatre tend not to look for musical accompaniment from popular sources. Classical and neoclassical compositions, avant-garde and electronic soundscapes, natural sounds and ambient noise have all soundtracked works by choreographers from Merce Cunningham to Mark Morris, but rarely has pop music (by which I mean any popular form rather than purely synth-based bubblegum) been given serious choreographic attention. Think of dance and pop together and (depending on your age and powers of recall) you’re more likely to think of either the choreographic oeuvre of Flick Colby and her various troupes on Top of the Pops, or of fresh-faced youngsters in lycra dancing a synchronised number behind a lip-synching singer on MTV. Neither example is likely to be mistaken for sophisticated contemporary dance.
Look beyond these overarching norms, however, and there are pockets of choreographic brilliance to be found on music television. Artists with an interest in performance have pushed at the boundaries of the promo video and its creative possibilities almost as long as the form has been with us, bringing contemporary dance and choreography to audience numbers undreamed of by theatre choreographers.
Before we dive deeper into some of these four-minute gems, let’s take a quick look at how music videos became the vital part of music promotion and consumption they are today.
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