Exclusive First Look: The Story Behind Mumford & Sons' Dance-Filled New Music Video
Mumford & Sons' banjoist and lead guitarist Winston Marshall used to consider himself someone who "vaguely appreciated" dance. But then, about a year ago, he saw Yeman Brown improvise to Beyoncé's "Halo."
"My heart went into my throat and I was quite literally moved to tears," he says. "It stole my breath away. I didn't know dance could make you feel that way."
That moment—which occurred during a video shoot at choreographer Kristin Sudeikis' Forward Space in New York City—not only changed Marshall's relationship to dance, but his relationship to music, he says. It also inspired Mumford & Sons' newest video, "Woman," choreographed by Sudeikis and featuring Brown and dancer Stephanie Crousillat, and debuting here on dancemagazine.com:
(Since then, Marshall—who was introduced to Sudeikis and to dance through his wife, former "Glee" star Dianna Agron—has taken several classes at Forward Space. "It's blown my mind. It's such a workout and I'm so unbelievably unfit that it's farcical that I was even there," he says.)
The video features Brown—one of our 2018 "25 to Watch" picks—and Crousillat as lovers in a series of home video-style vignettes where sometimes the dancers are literally filming each other on a handheld camcorder. The simplicity and intimacy of the atmosphere is mirrored in Sudeikis' understated, touching choreography.
David Knight, Courtesy Sacks & Co.
And though the song's lyrics describe its namesake "woman," Brown is the focus of much of the video, as we see him through what we presume to be his lover's camera. This was intentional, says Sudeikis: "We're seeing it through the female gaze, when often we see things through the male gaze."
For Marshall, this subverting of expectations is central to the song's meaning. "It's a little deceptive because the story of the song isn't the woman," he says. "It's the love between those two people and that's why the video is clever: It reveals that throughout the song. It's not something that smacks you in the face the first second of the video, it's something you learn."
The creative team—which includes director James Marcus Haney, a frequent collaborator of Mumford & Sons—also intended to rethink what it means to make a music video with dance. "You've seen thousands of dance videos of dancers doing virtuosic things that other people feel like they can't do," says Brown. "But I feel like what we were going for was trying to show the humanity and that we're all movers and we're all dancers." Or as Marshall puts it: "It's bloody believable."
David Knight, Courtesy Sacks & Co.
This believability can be attributed at least in part to Sudeikis' focus on the quiet details of the body: "The love story is in the in-betweens," she says. "The hands, the throat, the back body, the third eye. This intuitive way that lovers connect with each other, as though they are speaking this other language. I think that's what a great love story is; a dance."
While the video—both in its inclusion of contemporary dance and its raw, DIY style—feels like an edgy pivot for the mega-popular folk rock quartet, Marshall says the band isn't premeditated about their artistic choices. "We just follow our instincts," he says. "We sing songs that we need to sing. This is a continuation of that. We don't think about what we need to do; we just do it."
Whether or not there'll be more dance videos in Mumford & Sons' future, the band certainly has a budding dance fan in Marshall. (And a eager collaborator in Sudeikis, who is a longtime fan and has used the band's music in her own work.)
"One of the big takeaways for me is the similarity between dance and music," says Marshall. "For music to be good, it can't be too chaotic because then it's just noise, nor can it be too ordered because then it's predictable. You have to be right down the middle, and I think it's the same with dance. It also ties back to the original moment with Yeman: He's dancing for his f**king life. Music is good when you're singing like your life depends on it."
In the middle of one of New York City Center's cavernous studios, Misty Copeland takes a measured step backwards. The suggestion of a swan arm ripples before she turns downstage, chest and shoulders unfurling as her legs stretch into an open lunge. She piqués onto pointe, arms echoing the sinuous curve of her back attitude, then walks out of it, pausing to warily look over her shoulder. As the droning of Ryuichi Sakamoto and Alva Noto's mysterious "Attack/Transition" grows more insistent, her feet start to fly with a rapidity that seems to almost startle her.
And then she stops mid-phrase. Copeland's hands fall to her hips as she apologizes. Choreographer Kyle Abraham slides to the sound system to pause the music, giving Copeland a moment to remind herself of a recent change to the sequence.
"It's different when the sound's on!" he reassures her. "And it's a lot of changes."
The day before was the first time Abraham had seen Copeland dance the solo in its entirety, and the first moment they were in the studio together in a month. This is their last rehearsal, save for tech, before the premiere of Ash exactly one week later, as part of the opening night of City Center's Fall for Dance festival.
Back in 2011 when Joe Lanteri first approached Katie Langan, chair of Marymount Manhattan College's dance department, about getting involved with New York City Dance Alliance, she was skeptical about the convention/competition world.
"But I was pleasantly surprised by the enormity of talent that was there," she says. "His goal was to start scholarship opportunities, and I said okay, I'm in."
Today, it's fair to say that Lanteri has far surpassed his goal of creating scholarship opportunities. But NYCDA has done so much more, bridging the gap between the convention world and the professional world by forging a wealth of partnerships with dance institutions from Marymount to The Ailey School to Complexions Contemporary Ballet and many more. There's a reason these companies and schools—some of whom otherwise may not see themselves as aligned with the convention/competition world—keep deepening their relationships with NYCDA.
Now, college scholarships are just one of many ways NYCDA has gone beyond the typical weekend-long convention experience and created life-changing opportunities for students. We rounded up some of the most notable ones:
Dancers are understandably obsessed with food. In both an aesthetic and athletic profession, you know you're judged on your body shape, but you need proper fuel to perform your best. Meanwhile, you're inundated with questionable diet advice.
"My 'favorite' was the ABC diet," says registered dietitian nutritionist Kristin Koskinen, who trained in dance seriously but was convinced her body type wouldn't allow her to pursue it professionally. "On the first day you eat only foods starting with the letter A, on the second day only B, and so on."
"The show must go on" may be a platitude we use to get through everything from costume malfunctions to stormy moods. But when it came to overcoming a literal hurricane, Houston Ballet was buoyed by this mantra to go from devastated to dancing in a matter of weeks—with the help of Harlequin Floors, Houston Ballet's longstanding partner who sprang into action to build new floors in record time.