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."