When ballet meets pop music
From Lady Gaga and the Bolshoi to Freddie Mercury and The Royal Ballet, pop and ballet are fascinated by each other.
8 November 2013 at 5.42pm | Comment on this article
In much the same way that ballet has inspired film, pop musicians too have a healthy appreciation for dance. With the return of Chroma featuring orchestrations of music by The White Stripes, we thought we’d take a look at a few examples:
Freddie Mercury and The Royal Ballet – I Want to Break Free
One of Queen‘s most iconic music videos and possibly the clip that kickstarted pop’s fascination with ballet, I Want to Break Free saw The Royal Ballet perform with Freddie Mercury in a Wayne Eagling-choreographed performance that paid no small homage to Vaslav Nijinsky’s L’Après-midi d’un faune. The Company had worked with Mercury before - performing Bohemian Rhapsody and Killer Queen with him on stage at a gala at the Coliseum in 1977. Mercury was an avid opera and ballet fan, and also collaborated with soprano Montserrat Caballé.
Lady Gaga with The Bolshoi - Ballets Russes Italian Style (The Shortest Musical You Will Never See Again)
Pop’s most eccentric artist collaborated with the Bolshoi Ballet as well as a host of other celebrities for Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art‘s 30th anniversary gala in 2009. The event was masterminded by artist Francesco Vezzoli, who dubbed Lady Gaga ‘one of the Nijinskys of our epoch’. Among other high profile collaborators, Damien Hurst designed the piano played by Gaga, while Baz Luhrmann and Miuccia Prada designed costumes, and David Hockney designed the staging.
Radiohead with Wayne McGregor – Lotus Flower
A viral hit, Radiohead‘s 2011 music video for Lotus Flower is strikingly sparse – bowler-hatted frontman Thom Yorke flails in monochrome to the stuttering and soaring stand-out track, taken from the album The King of Limbs. Royal Ballet Resident Choreographer Wayne McGregor choreographed the sequence at Yorke’s request and the video sparked an internet meme ‘Dancing Thom Yorke’ where fans replaced the audio with other songs, most memorably Beyoncé’s Single Ladies. Yorke and McGregor collaborated again on the video for Radiohead side-project Atoms for Peace’s Ingenue. ‘It’s like any contemporary artists working alongside each other,’ offered Sadler’s Wells Artistic Director Alistair Spalding. ‘They will tend to work with their friends. It’s like when Diaghilev would commission Stravinsky. Maybe today he would think about Radiohead.’
Boy George, Alison Mosshart, and more with Wayne McGregor – Carbon Life
Another pop/dance fusion from Wayne McGregor, Carbon Life saw the choreographer team up with DJ/producer Mark Ronson enlist to assemble a supergroup of pop talent from 80s new wave (Boy George) to indie rock (Andrew Wyatt of Miike Snow, Alison Mosshart of The Kills and The Dead Weather) and hip hop (Wale). The Gareth Pugh-designed production saw a backing band perform nine songs live from the rear of the stage while a revolving ensemble of Royal Ballet dancers performed in front. Among other inventive elements, the ballet saw male dancers performing on pointe, dressed in Pugh’s striking angular costumes.
Sufjan Stevens with Justin Peck and New York City Ballet – Year of the Rabbit
Performed to an orchestration of Sufjan Stevens‘s astrology-inspired electronic song cycle Enjoy Your Rabbit, Year of the Rabbit was choreographed by New York City Ballet corps dancer Justin Peck. It followed an earlier collaboration between Peck and Stevens, which was created for the New York Choreographic Institute and follows the George Balanchine’s tradition of, in Stevens’s words, ‘refusing to impose meaning [and] manipulating the dancers as abstract objects’. The pair are collaborating on a third work which will have its premiere in May 2014.
What are your favourite ballet/pop collaborations?