Bobbi Jene Smith, photographed by Jayme Thornton

Exclusive Playlist: Listen to the Songs that Give Bobbi Jene Smith the "Power to Express" Herself

At our cover shoot for the November issue, Bobbi Jene Smith curated one of the best lineups of YouTube music videos that I've heard in a long time. From Bob Dylan to Tom Waits, they felt like such perfect choices for her earthy, visceral movement and soulful approach to dance.


A few hours into the shoot, Smith put on Laurie Anderson's "O Superman," and started telling us about how much she loved Anderson. We got inspired to do an homage to the music video by putting Smith in a spotlight while listening to "O Superman" on repeat. That setup turned out to create the very image that we chose for the cover.

Laurie Anderson - O Superman [Official Music Video]

Later, Smith told me that actually, each of her dances weaves in an homage to Anderson: two little kicks that she once saw her do while playing a concert in Tel Aviv. "She was on the violin and in the middle of playing she walked sideways and did two little delicate kicks and then continued to play. I could see her dancing as a little girl. I started crying. Those small things can just move your heart all of a sudden."

Since Smith has such an intimate and intense connection to the music that inspires her, I wanted to know more of the songs she listens to. So we asked her to create a playlist for Dance Magazine. She put together songs that, as she puts it, "have been carrying me and giving me power to express through the years."

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Luke Isley, Courtesy Ballet West

How Do Choreographers Bring Something Fresh to Music We've Heard Over and Over?

In 2007, Oregon Ballet Theatre asked Nicolo Fonte to choreograph a ballet to Maurice Ravel's Boléro. "I said, 'No way. I'm not going near it,' " recalls Fonte. "I don't want to compete with the Béjart version, ice skaters or the movie 10. No, no, no!"

But Fonte's husband encouraged him to "just listen and get a visceral reaction." He did. And Bolero turned into one of Fonte's most requested and successful ballets.

Not all dance renditions of similar warhorse scores have worked out so well. Yet the irresistible siren song of pieces like Stravinsky's The Firebird and The Rite of Spring, as well as the perennial Carmina Burana by Carl Orff, seem too magnetic for choreographers to ignore.

And there are reasons for their popularity. Some were commissioned specifically for dance: Rite and Firebird for Diaghilev's Ballets Russes; Boléro for dance diva Ida Rubinstein's post–Ballets Russes troupe. Hypnotic rhythms (Arvo Pärt's Spiegel im Spiegel) and danceable melodies (Bizet's Carmen) make a case for physical eye candy. Audience familiarity can also help box office receipts. Still, many choreographers have been sabotaged by the formidable nature and Muzak-y overuse of these iconic compositions.

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