Music, Sound, and the Moving Image

The Dancing Eyes of the Director

Choreographers, Dance Cultures, and Film Genres in British Music Video 1979–2016

Music, Sound, and the Moving Image (2017), 11, (1), 37–62.

Abstract

This article looks at the work of choreographers in British music video from Arlene Phillips (founder of Hot Gossip), to FKA Twigs and Wayne McGregor. The first section presents an overview of the development of genres of dance and choreography in music videos from the late 1970s to the present day, covering genres such as the loosely-choreographed pop act video, to the formal, tightly-choreographed routines of videos drawing on the Hollywood musical tradition, to the street dance video ushered in following Malcolm McLaren’s breakthrough ‘Buffalo Gals’ video (1983). The article argues that British music videos should not be negatively compared to their bigger budget US counterparts but should instead be appreciated on their own merits – and those merits include the greater creative exchange with ballet and contemporary dance, and the use of techniques from experimental film and narrative film; and it argues that these features make dance in British music videos an exciting and critically acclaimed cultural form today. The author draws attention to the importance of ‘social realism’ within British choreographed music videos, and points out that the recent work of Matthew Bourne and FKA Twigs overrides the traditional distinction between ‘dance film’ and commercial music dance film.

This article was published open access under a CC BY license https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

The Dancing Eyes of the Director

Choreographers, Dance Cultures, and Film Genres in British Music Video 1979–2016

Abstract

This article looks at the work of choreographers in British music video from Arlene Phillips (founder of Hot Gossip), to FKA Twigs and Wayne McGregor. The first section presents an overview of the development of genres of dance and choreography in music videos from the late 1970s to the present day, covering genres such as the loosely-choreographed pop act video, to the formal, tightly-choreographed routines of videos drawing on the Hollywood musical tradition, to the street dance video ushered in following Malcolm McLaren’s breakthrough ‘Buffalo Gals’ video (1983). The article argues that British music videos should not be negatively compared to their bigger budget US counterparts but should instead be appreciated on their own merits – and those merits include the greater creative exchange with ballet and contemporary dance, and the use of techniques from experimental film and narrative film; and it argues that these features make dance in British music videos an exciting and critically acclaimed cultural form today. The author draws attention to the importance of ‘social realism’ within British choreographed music videos, and points out that the recent work of Matthew Bourne and FKA Twigs overrides the traditional distinction between ‘dance film’ and commercial music dance film.

This article was published open access under a CC BY license https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

Adams, Ruth (2014) ‘Who Says White Men Can’t Dance? Deconstructing Racial Stereotypes in “Windowlicker”’, Unsettling Whiteness, 11, pp.263–273. Who Says White Men Can’t Dance? Deconstructing Racial Stereotypes in “Windowlicker” Unsettling Whiteness 11 263 273 Google Scholar

Anderson, Zoe (2008) ‘British Choreographers are Now Sought after the World Over; So What’s Their Secret?’, Available from: http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/theatre-dance/features/british-choreographers-are-now-sought-after-the-world-over-ndash-so-whats-their-secret-806889. html (Accessed: 10 June 2015). Google Scholar

Austerlitz, Saul (2007) ‘Chapter 6: Spike and Michel’, In: Money for Nothing: A History of the Music Video from The Beatles to the White Stripes. New York & London: Continuum, pp.163–182. Chapter 6: Spike and Michel Money for Nothing: A History of the Music Video from The Beatles to the White Stripes 163 182 Google Scholar

Bernard, Natricia (2016) Interviewed by Emily Caston, London, 1 February. Interviewed by Emily Caston Google Scholar

Billman, Larry (2002) ‘Music Video as Short Dance Film’. In: Mitoma, Judy, Zimmer, Elizabeth & Stieber, Dale Ann (eds). Envisioning Dance on Film and Video. New York: Routledge, pp.12–20. Music Video as Short Dance Film Envisioning Dance on Film and Video 12 20 Google Scholar

Bixler, Litza (2016) Interviewed by Emily Caston, London, 3 March. Interviewed by Emily Caston Google Scholar

Blakey, Holly (2016) Interviewed by Emily Caston, London, 1 February. Interviewed by Emily Caston Google Scholar

Brannigan, Erin (2011) Dance Film: Choreography and the Moving Image. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Dance Film: Choreography and the Moving Image Google Scholar

Buckland, Theresa Jill & Stewart, Elizabeth (1993) ‘Dance and Music Video’. In: Jordan, Stephanie & Allen, Dave (eds). Parallel Lines: Media Representations of Dance. London: John Libbey, pp.51–80. Dance and Music Video Parallel Lines: Media Representations of Dance 51 80 Google Scholar

Caston, Emily (2012) ‘“Kick, Bollocks and Scramble”: An Examination of Power and Creative Decision-Making in the Production Process During the Golden Era of British Music Videos 1995-2001’, Journal of British Cinema and Television, 9 (1), pp.96–110. “Kick, Bollocks and Scramble”: An Examination of Power and Creative Decision-Making in the Production Process During the Golden Era of British Music Videos 1995-2001 Journal of British Cinema and Television 9 96 110 Google Scholar

Caston, Emily (2014) ‘The Fine Art of Commercial Freedom: British Music Videos and Film Culture’, Scope: An Online Journal of Film and Television Studies, 26, pp.1–18. The Fine Art of Commercial Freedom: British Music Videos and Film Culture Scope: An Online Journal of Film and Television Studies 26 1 18 Google Scholar

Dodds, Sherril (2004) Dance on Screen: Genres and Media from Hollywood to Experimental Art. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. Dance on Screen: Genres and Media from Hollywood to Experimental Art Google Scholar

Dodds, Sherril (2009a) ‘From Busby Berkeley to Madonna: Music Video and Popular Dance’. In: Malnig, Julie (ed.). Ballroom, Boogie, Shimmy Sham, Shake: A Social and Popular Dance Reader. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, pp.247–260. From Busby Berkeley to Madonna: Music Video and Popular Dance Ballroom, Boogie, Shimmy Sham, Shake: A Social and Popular Dance Reader 247 260 Google Scholar

Dodds, Sherril (2009b) ‘Dancing across Film, Television and the Digital Screen’, International Journal of Performance Arts and Digital Media, 5 (2), pp.71–73. Dancing across Film, Television and the Digital Screen International Journal of Performance Arts and Digital 5 71 73 Google Scholar

Dodds, Sherril (2011) Dancing on the Canon. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. Dancing on the Canon Google Scholar

Dodds, Sherril (2014) ‘Values in Motion: Reflections on Popular Screen Dance’. In: Blanco Borelli, Melissa (ed.). The Oxford Handbook of Dance and the Popular Screen. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp.445–454. Values in Motion: Reflections on Popular Screen Dance The Oxford Handbook of Dance and the Popular Screen 445 454 Google Scholar

Dom & Nic (2016) Interviewed by Emily Caston, London, 9 February. Interviewed by Emily Caston Google Scholar

Evans, Mark & Fogarty, Mary (eds) (2016) Movies, Moves and Music: The Sonic World of Dance Films. Sheffield: Equinox Publishing. Movies, Moves and Music: The Sonic World of Dance Films Google Scholar

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Herndon, Jessica (2010) ‘INSIDE STORY: The Making of Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies”’, People: Celebrity, 1 January, Available from: http://www.people.com/people/article/0,,20333961,00.html (Accessed: 10 March 2017). Google Scholar

Higson, Andrew (2003) English Heritage, English Cinema: Costume Drama Since 1980. Oxford: Oxford University Press. English Heritage, English Cinema: Costume Drama Since 1980 Google Scholar

Lawrence, Tim (2009) ‘Beyond the Hustle/1970s Social Dancing, Discotheque Culture, and the Emergence of the Contemporary Club Dancer’. In: Malnig, Julie (ed.). Ballroom, Boogie, Shimmy Sham, Shake: A Social and Popular Dance Reader. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, pp.199–214. Beyond the Hustle/1970s Social Dancing, Discotheque Culture, and the Emergence of the Contemporary Club Dancer Ballroom, Boogie, Shimmy Sham, Shake: A Social and Popular Dance Reader 199 214 Google Scholar

Macaulay, Alastair (ed.) (1999) Matthew Bourne and his Adventures in Motion Pictures. London: Faber and Faber. Matthew Bourne and his Adventures in Motion Pictures Google Scholar

Mackrell, Judith (1992) Out of Line: The Story of British New Dance. London: Dance Books. Out of Line: The Story of British New Dance Google Scholar

Malnig, Julie (ed.) (2009) Ballroom, Boogie, Shimmy, Sham, Shake: A Social and Popular Dance Reader. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press. Ballroom, Boogie, Shimmy, Sham, Shake: A Social and Popular Dance Reader Google Scholar

Mitoma, Judy, Zimmer, Elizabeth, & Stieber, Dale Ann (eds) (2002) Envisioning Dance on Film and Video. New York and London: Routledge. Envisioning Dance on Film and Video Google Scholar

Mundy, John (1999) Popular Music on Screen: From Hollywood Musical to Music Video. Manchester: Manchester University Press. Popular Music on Screen: From Hollywood Musical to Music Video Google Scholar

Mundy, John (2007) The British Musical Film. Manchester & New York: Manchester University Press. The British Musical Film Google Scholar

Narins, Elizabeth (2016) ‘There’s Something You Don’t Know About the “Single Ladies” Video’, Cosmopolitan, 2 May, Available from: http://www.cosmopolitan.com/entertainment/a57744/behind-the-scenes-beyonces-single-ladies-video/ (Accessed: 10 March 2017). Google Scholar

Pearlman, Karen (2006) ‘Editing as a Form of Choreography’. In: Vokoun, Jessica (ed.). Proceeding Screendance: State of the Art. Durham, NC: American Dance Film Festival, Duke University Press, pp. 52–56. Editing as a Form of Choreography 52 56 Google Scholar

Preston, Hilary (2006) ‘Choreographing the Frame: A Critical Investigation into How Dance for the Camera Extends the Conceptual and Artistic Boundaries of Dance 1’, Research in Dance Education 7 (1), pp.75–87. Choreographing the Frame: A Critical Investigation into How Dance for the Camera Extends the Conceptual and Artistic Boundaries of Dance 1 Research in Dance Education 7 75 87 Google Scholar

Roberts, Paul (2016) Interviewed by Emily Caston, London, 1 February. Interviewed by Emily Caston Google Scholar

Shadforth, Dawn (2016) Interviewed by Emily Caston, London, 12 February. Interviewed by Emily Caston Google Scholar

Sillis, Aaron (2015) Interviewed by Emily Caston, London, 22 September. Interviewed by Emily Caston Google Scholar

Smart, Jackie (2001) ‘The Disruptive Dialogue of Dance for the Camera’, Journal of Media Practice, 2 (1), pp.37–47. The Disruptive Dialogue of Dance for the Camera Journal of Media Practice 2 37 47 Google Scholar

Totty, Ben (2016) Interviewed by Emily Caston, London, 20 January. Interviewed by Emily Caston Google Scholar

Wiegand, Chris (2011), ‘Flick Colby Obituary’, The Guardian, 30 May, Available from: http://www.theguardian.com/stage/2011/may/30/flick-colby-obituary (Accessed: 6 February 2017). Google Scholar

Williams, Eliza (2014) ‘Five Amazing Kate Bush Videos’, Creative Review, 26 August, Available from: https://www.creativereview.co.uk/cr-blog/2014/august/five-amazing-kate-bush-videos/ (Accessed: 10 October 2016). Google Scholar

Winship, Lyndsey (2015) ‘Meet the Man Behind FKA Twigs Experimental Performances’, Evening Standard, Wednesday 19 August, Available from: http://www.standard.co.uk/lifestyle/london-life/meet-the-man-behind-fka-twigs-experimental-performances-a2916976.html (Accessed: 10 October 2016). Google Scholar

Adams, Ruth (2014) ‘Who Says White Men Can’t Dance? Deconstructing Racial Stereotypes in “Windowlicker”’, Unsettling Whiteness, 11, pp.263–273. Who Says White Men Can’t Dance? Deconstructing Racial Stereotypes in “Windowlicker” Unsettling Whiteness 11 263 273 Google Scholar

Anderson, Zoe (2008) ‘British Choreographers are Now Sought after the World Over; So What’s Their Secret?’, Available from: http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/theatre-dance/features/british-choreographers-are-now-sought-after-the-world-over-ndash-so-whats-their-secret-806889. html (Accessed: 10 June 2015). Google Scholar

Austerlitz, Saul (2007) ‘Chapter 6: Spike and Michel’, In: Money for Nothing: A History of the Music Video from The Beatles to the White Stripes. New York & London: Continuum, pp.163–182. Chapter 6: Spike and Michel Money for Nothing: A History of the Music Video from The Beatles to the White Stripes 163 182 Google Scholar

Bernard, Natricia (2016) Interviewed by Emily Caston, London, 1 February. Interviewed by Emily Caston Google Scholar

Billman, Larry (2002) ‘Music Video as Short Dance Film’. In: Mitoma, Judy, Zimmer, Elizabeth & Stieber, Dale Ann (eds). Envisioning Dance on Film and Video. New York: Routledge, pp.12–20. Music Video as Short Dance Film Envisioning Dance on Film and Video 12 20 Google Scholar

Bixler, Litza (2016) Interviewed by Emily Caston, London, 3 March. Interviewed by Emily Caston Google Scholar

Blakey, Holly (2016) Interviewed by Emily Caston, London, 1 February. Interviewed by Emily Caston Google Scholar

Brannigan, Erin (2011) Dance Film: Choreography and the Moving Image. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Dance Film: Choreography and the Moving Image Google Scholar

Buckland, Theresa Jill & Stewart, Elizabeth (1993) ‘Dance and Music Video’. In: Jordan, Stephanie & Allen, Dave (eds). Parallel Lines: Media Representations of Dance. London: John Libbey, pp.51–80. Dance and Music Video Parallel Lines: Media Representations of Dance 51 80 Google Scholar

Caston, Emily (2012) ‘“Kick, Bollocks and Scramble”: An Examination of Power and Creative Decision-Making in the Production Process During the Golden Era of British Music Videos 1995-2001’, Journal of British Cinema and Television, 9 (1), pp.96–110. “Kick, Bollocks and Scramble”: An Examination of Power and Creative Decision-Making in the Production Process During the Golden Era of British Music Videos 1995-2001 Journal of British Cinema and Television 9 96 110 Google Scholar

Caston, Emily (2014) ‘The Fine Art of Commercial Freedom: British Music Videos and Film Culture’, Scope: An Online Journal of Film and Television Studies, 26, pp.1–18. The Fine Art of Commercial Freedom: British Music Videos and Film Culture Scope: An Online Journal of Film and Television Studies 26 1 18 Google Scholar

Dodds, Sherril (2004) Dance on Screen: Genres and Media from Hollywood to Experimental Art. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. Dance on Screen: Genres and Media from Hollywood to Experimental Art Google Scholar

Dodds, Sherril (2009a) ‘From Busby Berkeley to Madonna: Music Video and Popular Dance’. In: Malnig, Julie (ed.). Ballroom, Boogie, Shimmy Sham, Shake: A Social and Popular Dance Reader. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, pp.247–260. From Busby Berkeley to Madonna: Music Video and Popular Dance Ballroom, Boogie, Shimmy Sham, Shake: A Social and Popular Dance Reader 247 260 Google Scholar

Dodds, Sherril (2009b) ‘Dancing across Film, Television and the Digital Screen’, International Journal of Performance Arts and Digital Media, 5 (2), pp.71–73. Dancing across Film, Television and the Digital Screen International Journal of Performance Arts and Digital 5 71 73 Google Scholar

Dodds, Sherril (2011) Dancing on the Canon. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. Dancing on the Canon Google Scholar

Dodds, Sherril (2014) ‘Values in Motion: Reflections on Popular Screen Dance’. In: Blanco Borelli, Melissa (ed.). The Oxford Handbook of Dance and the Popular Screen. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp.445–454. Values in Motion: Reflections on Popular Screen Dance The Oxford Handbook of Dance and the Popular Screen 445 454 Google Scholar

Dom & Nic (2016) Interviewed by Emily Caston, London, 9 February. Interviewed by Emily Caston Google Scholar

Evans, Mark & Fogarty, Mary (eds) (2016) Movies, Moves and Music: The Sonic World of Dance Films. Sheffield: Equinox Publishing. Movies, Moves and Music: The Sonic World of Dance Films Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

Herndon, Jessica (2010) ‘INSIDE STORY: The Making of Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies”’, People: Celebrity, 1 January, Available from: http://www.people.com/people/article/0,,20333961,00.html (Accessed: 10 March 2017). Google Scholar

Higson, Andrew (2003) English Heritage, English Cinema: Costume Drama Since 1980. Oxford: Oxford University Press. English Heritage, English Cinema: Costume Drama Since 1980 Google Scholar

Lawrence, Tim (2009) ‘Beyond the Hustle/1970s Social Dancing, Discotheque Culture, and the Emergence of the Contemporary Club Dancer’. In: Malnig, Julie (ed.). Ballroom, Boogie, Shimmy Sham, Shake: A Social and Popular Dance Reader. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, pp.199–214. Beyond the Hustle/1970s Social Dancing, Discotheque Culture, and the Emergence of the Contemporary Club Dancer Ballroom, Boogie, Shimmy Sham, Shake: A Social and Popular Dance Reader 199 214 Google Scholar

Macaulay, Alastair (ed.) (1999) Matthew Bourne and his Adventures in Motion Pictures. London: Faber and Faber. Matthew Bourne and his Adventures in Motion Pictures Google Scholar

Mackrell, Judith (1992) Out of Line: The Story of British New Dance. London: Dance Books. Out of Line: The Story of British New Dance Google Scholar

Malnig, Julie (ed.) (2009) Ballroom, Boogie, Shimmy, Sham, Shake: A Social and Popular Dance Reader. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press. Ballroom, Boogie, Shimmy, Sham, Shake: A Social and Popular Dance Reader Google Scholar

Mitoma, Judy, Zimmer, Elizabeth, & Stieber, Dale Ann (eds) (2002) Envisioning Dance on Film and Video. New York and London: Routledge. Envisioning Dance on Film and Video Google Scholar

Mundy, John (1999) Popular Music on Screen: From Hollywood Musical to Music Video. Manchester: Manchester University Press. Popular Music on Screen: From Hollywood Musical to Music Video Google Scholar

Mundy, John (2007) The British Musical Film. Manchester & New York: Manchester University Press. The British Musical Film Google Scholar

Narins, Elizabeth (2016) ‘There’s Something You Don’t Know About the “Single Ladies” Video’, Cosmopolitan, 2 May, Available from: http://www.cosmopolitan.com/entertainment/a57744/behind-the-scenes-beyonces-single-ladies-video/ (Accessed: 10 March 2017). Google Scholar

Pearlman, Karen (2006) ‘Editing as a Form of Choreography’. In: Vokoun, Jessica (ed.). Proceeding Screendance: State of the Art. Durham, NC: American Dance Film Festival, Duke University Press, pp. 52–56. Editing as a Form of Choreography 52 56 Google Scholar

Preston, Hilary (2006) ‘Choreographing the Frame: A Critical Investigation into How Dance for the Camera Extends the Conceptual and Artistic Boundaries of Dance 1’, Research in Dance Education 7 (1), pp.75–87. Choreographing the Frame: A Critical Investigation into How Dance for the Camera Extends the Conceptual and Artistic Boundaries of Dance 1 Research in Dance Education 7 75 87 Google Scholar

Roberts, Paul (2016) Interviewed by Emily Caston, London, 1 February. Interviewed by Emily Caston Google Scholar

Shadforth, Dawn (2016) Interviewed by Emily Caston, London, 12 February. Interviewed by Emily Caston Google Scholar

Sillis, Aaron (2015) Interviewed by Emily Caston, London, 22 September. Interviewed by Emily Caston Google Scholar

Smart, Jackie (2001) ‘The Disruptive Dialogue of Dance for the Camera’, Journal of Media Practice, 2 (1), pp.37–47. The Disruptive Dialogue of Dance for the Camera Journal of Media Practice 2 37 47 Google Scholar

Totty, Ben (2016) Interviewed by Emily Caston, London, 20 January. Interviewed by Emily Caston Google Scholar

Wiegand, Chris (2011), ‘Flick Colby Obituary’, The Guardian, 30 May, Available from: http://www.theguardian.com/stage/2011/may/30/flick-colby-obituary (Accessed: 6 February 2017). Google Scholar

Williams, Eliza (2014) ‘Five Amazing Kate Bush Videos’, Creative Review, 26 August, Available from: https://www.creativereview.co.uk/cr-blog/2014/august/five-amazing-kate-bush-videos/ (Accessed: 10 October 2016). Google Scholar

Winship, Lyndsey (2015) ‘Meet the Man Behind FKA Twigs Experimental Performances’, Evening Standard, Wednesday 19 August, Available from: http://www.standard.co.uk/lifestyle/london-life/meet-the-man-behind-fka-twigs-experimental-performances-a2916976.html (Accessed: 10 October 2016). Google Scholar


Details

Author details

Caston, Emily