By Virgin EMI, courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Dance and Dancers Are Front and Center in Pop Star Jessie Ware's New Videos

"My agenda going into this was to make people dance," London-based singer Jessie Ware said to Vogue's Keaton Bell about her new album, "What's Your Pleasure?" As if to prove the point, Ware stacked the record's June 26 release with a suite of videos that put dance—and dancers—front and center.

While other pop stars might find one choreographic style that suits them and stick with it, each of the five videos (and counting) for "What's Your Pleasure?" claims its own spectrum of movement, for an experience more like a mixed repertory program than a halftime show.

Ware herself appears in only one video so far, for the irresistible album opener "Spotlight," filmed on a vintage passenger train that runs between Montenegro and Serbia. Ware cedes the spotlight in other videos to the work of French choreography duo I COULD NEVER BE A DANCER (Olivier Casamayou and Carine Charaire) and three soloists who, in another welcome departure from the norm, are clearly credited by name.


"Soul Control"

Early in her professional career, French-Moroccan artist Hajiba Fahmy worked with choreographer Jean-Claude Gallotta of Groupe Émile Dubois. More recently, Fahmy appeared in Beyoncé's 2018 performances at Coachella, immortalized by the documentary HΘMΣCΘMING.

In "Soul Control," Casamayou, Charaire and Fahmy channel the work of '80s pop choreographers like Paula Abdul, Toni Basil, Tina Landon and Anthony Thomas. Kicking the video's nostalgia factor up to a level even higher than the lasers and solarization effects already raised it, the sleeves of Fahmy's black blazer are pushed up to reveal clenched fists and bangle bracelets.

"Step Into My Life"

Model and Dana Foglia Dance company member Eric Schloesser stars in this cheeky video shot in a 10-lane bowling alley using a Steadicam. Wearing white loafers and an oversized, double-breasted suit jacket, Schloesser appears to have raided the closet of a much older gentleman and the choreography reaches into the archives, too. There's more than a hint of Bob Fosse's Broadway in Schloesser's hands and hips, also in the way the solo employs objects and furniture in place of other bodies. Sharp, slightly strange steps reminiscent of Ryan Heffington's work escalate until Schloesser finishes with an aerial and a double saut de basque.

"What's Your Pleasure?"

The video for the album's title track provides a star turn to Parisian dancer Nicolas Huchard, whose 2016 gig for Christine and the Queens led to an opportunity to work with Madonna. Alone in a motel room, Huchard preens, vogues and changes clothes, mixing and matching accessories and gestures historically coded as feminine and masculine.

Unlike the hip dance history of "Soul Control" and "Step Into My Life," "What's Your Pleasure?" is absolutely contemporary in its embrace of fantasy-building and gender expansion, resonant with the work of artists like Faye Driscoll, Jack Ferver, Miguel Gutierrez and Donald C. Shorter, Jr.

"Spotlight"

Murder on the Orient Express meets Snowpiercer by way of Studio 54, the video for "Spotlight" journeys through the luxuriously appointed cars of Tito's Blue Train, used in the '60s and '70s by Josip Broz Tito, authoritarian president of the former nation of Yugoslavia.

As performed by dancers from countries across the region including Croatia, Russia, Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, isolated scraps of casual choreography, ingeniously lit from outside the train, seem to arrange themselves in a cool crescendo, culminating with an embodied dance phrase led by Ware for the entire ensemble.

"Save a Kiss"

Only this video nods to the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on the global dance community—and it actually makes rehearsing on Zoom look like fun. Released first in May as a tutorial along with an invitation for video submissions, its choreography is tailored for TikTok: from the waist up and face-forward.

In the first few seconds, we're introduced to Ware and 15 dancers including Casamayou, Fahmy and Schloesser; another dozen dancers, presumably crowdcast, log in about halfway through. Eagle eyes will spot material that Schloesser performs in "Step Into My Life" but what sneaks up on you is the joy of watching a diverse group of people work together to learn something new.

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