We're no strangers to Spike Jonze's delightfully dancy ads. But the brilliant director's newest video, a promotion for Apple's HomePod, could be his best yet—in no small part because it features the impressive dance skills of the equally brilliant FKA twigs.
(Fun fact: twigs was a backup dancer for the likes of Kylie Minogue and Jessie J before she became a musical sensation in her own right. She is LEGIT.)
2017 has been quite a year here at Dance Magazine. From launching our new website to celebrating the magazine's 90th anniversary, it's been a thrilling 12 months. To wrap up the year, the Dance Magazine team took a moment to share each of our favorite highlights.
You know that feeling when you think you know everything about your favorite choreographer, but then a random celeb completely blows your mind with a juicy and hilarious fun fact about them? Same.
What are we talking about? It all started last week at the Wall Street Journal Innovators Awards, where actress Reese Witherspoon and choreographer Ryan Heffington were honored for their achievements. Witherspoon gave a heartfelt speech about roles for strong women in Hollywood, and Heffington (in true Heffington fashion), did this in lieu of a speech:
Ryan Heffington shot by Jacob Sutton, styled by Mindy Le Brock in jacket by Jil Sander, pants by McQ and shoes by Opening Ceremony
On paper, the finale of last year's Netflix series "The OA" looks absurd: Choreography as a pivotal plot device for a cerebral sci-fi show? Please.
"It could be truly amazing, or the worst part of the series," admits Ryan Heffington, the man behind the moves, which were introduced over eight surreal episodes.
But the climax proved powerful and poignant, an utterly unique use of the body to not just tell a story but drive it. "They're healing," he says of the show's gestures, which echo ancient rituals and his own personal philosophy. "It's a very spiritual set of movements. And I always say, 'Dance is a portal to spirituality.' "
Remember that Spike Jonze/Ryan Heffington/Opening Ceremony collab we mentioned a few weeks back? It's here. Changers: A Dance Story (OC's show for New York Fashion Week) is currently running at La Mama through tomorrow. While the remaining performances are unsurprisingly sold out, the piece got a much wider audience last night, thanks to an appearance on "The Tonight Show" with Jimmy Fallon.
Whether he's choreographing bizarre music videos for Sia, an immersive dance show on the High Line or soundtrack-synchronized moves for the summer blockbuster Baby Driver, Ryan Heffington's dances keep popping up in unexpected places. His latest project? Choreographing a "dance story" for Opening Ceremony during New York Fashion Week.
For Dance Magazine's 90th anniversary issue, we wanted to celebrate the movers, shakers and changemakers who are having the biggest impact on our field right now. There were so many to choose from! But with the help of dozens of writers, artists and administrators working in dance, the Dance Magazine staff whittled the list down to those we felt are making the most difference right now.
Click through the links below to find out why they made our list.
Patron saint of queer quirk and founder of Los Angeles studio The Sweat Spot, Ryan Heffington first made headlines three years ago as the choreographer of "Chandelier," a music video for Sia starring Maddie Ziegler with a combined view count of more than 1.5 billion. Last year, Heffington both broadened his range and reinforced his brand, contributing to the frankly sexual short film for "Worship" by U.K. pop trio Years & Years, collaborating with director Spike Jonze and dancer-actress Margaret Qualley on a cinematic short to launch KENZO's World perfume, and reuniting with Sia and Ziegler for "The Greatest" featuring Kendrick Lamar.
But the most effective vehicle for his idiosyncratic creative voice so far might be the polarizing Netflix series The OA. Heffington's compulsive tendencies to choreograph facial expressions and give discrete actions priority over cohesive phrasing are well-suited to screen actors without much dance experience. Whether the show's second season includes as much dance as its first remains to be seen; either way, chances are good that Heffington himself will remain busy.
When it came out in 2014, few would have guessed Sia's “Chandelier" had the makings of a viral video. There was just a single performer—not even Sia herself—on a small, modest set, with no flashy cuts or gimmicks. But it went viral anyway, its simple-yet-strange, entirely dance-focused concept captivating viewers and rendering dancer Maddie Ziegler a household name.
“It wasn't premeditated—I didn't expect it to be that huge and change the course of music videos," says the video's choreographer, Ryan Heffington. “But 'Chandelier' opened up a new world of possibilities in a big way."
Margaret Qualley in a Bloch Inc. ad during her ballet days
I always thought perfume ads were pointless. Visions of women dripping in diamonds or riding horseback with a muscular hunk may give an air of sophistication, romance, luxury, but that doesn't tell me what a perfume smells like. However, there is always room for an exception: The new commercial for KENZO World is a fragrance ad I can totally get behind.
It's completely bonkers. In a good way. And it's successful because of this very special recipe it follows:
— 1 creative mastermind of a director (Spike Jonze, aka the man behind movies like Being John Malkovich and Her)
— 1 off-the-wall choreographer (Ryan Heffington, the guy who's responsible for bringing contemporary moves to music videos like Sia's "Chandelier")
— 1 ballerina-turned-actress (Margaret Qualley, whom you may know from HBO's "The Leftovers")
— Mix all ingredients for a giant heap of magic.
The video features Qualley, who ditches a swanky gala to dance her way through a theater, even making an appearance onstage before she ends her crazed dance on a plaza outside. The choreography is frantic, energizing and raw—and recognizably Heffington. A favorite moment is when Qualley mimics a gorilla each times she passes a mirror. Even though Heffington's sequences are spastic, Qualley clearly has dance chops. Growing up, she studied ballet, appeared in Bloch Inc. dancewear ads and attended American Ballet Theatre's summer intensive in New York City. According to this article on Vogue's website, she was even offered an apprenticeship there but decided to shift her focus to acting. (Another Qualley fun fact: She is the daughter of model-turned-actress Andie MacDowell.)
The KENZO World spot isn't Jonze's first foray into dance either. Remember this gem of a video that featured Christopher Walken tap-dancing and floating through a hotel to Fatboy Slim's "Weapon of Choice"?
It was also directed by Jonze, and the two videos' neutral color palettes and dance sequences that glide up stairs and down hallways are strikingly similar. Both start with a pensive, bored star. Then, the choreography slowly ramps up with some subtle nods and face twitching. Finally, Walken and Qualleylet loose:
Granted, Walken's moves are definitely more subdued than Qualley's, but that doesn't make me appreciate them any less. Watch the whole KENZO World spot below, and prepare yourself for nearly four minutes of "What's happening?!" This is the first time I've been tempted to buy a perfume based on its advertisement. And that, my friends, is an über-successful use of dance to promote a product.
Music videos are embracing concert dance more than ever.
It was the music video the world couldn’t stop talking about. Sia’s “Chandelier” featured “Dance Moms” star Maddie Ziegler moving with reckless abandon in a forlorn apartment. The video became the 17th most viewed on YouTube, and won the award for Best Choreography at the 2014 MTV Video Music Awards. After two more collaborations, Sia’s projects starring Ziegler and choreographed by Ryan Heffington have collectively garnered over a billion views on YouTube.
Though we don’t yet know who will take home a VMA this month, one thing is for certain: Dancers are no longer just a backdrop. They’ve become the heart of many videos, like in Taylor Swift’s dance mash-up “Shake It Off” and Carrie Underwood’s splashy “Something in the Water,” featuring the dancers of Shaping Sound.
Pop culture and dance have already come together in television, on shows like “So You Think You Can Dance” and “Breaking Pointe.” But music videos, generally with a three- to four-minute window, pack in only the most impressive movement. It’s a quick dose of culture packaged for consumption. “What we have been creating these past few years are products of evolution and sit in the confines of current culture. There is no chance I could have created this work a decade ago,” says Heffington, who has also choreographed for Arcade Fire, FKA twigs and Florence + the Machine. “The more people see dance in music videos, the more they can relate to it.”
But is boiling dance down to a few minutes of flash good for the art form? The success of a music video is generally determined by its director, says Jade Hale-Christofi, who choreographed a viral video to Hozier’s “Take Me to Church,”danced by Sergei Polunin. He says that director David LaChapelle’s understanding of dance helped give himself and Polunin the freedom to develop a powerful final product. “If it’s done right and it’s done with care and love for the art, more dancers would definitely go into music videos,” he says. “Anyone can look at it and understand the piece. And I think that if you can inspire enough people to watch ballet, that’s a great thing.”
Misty Copeland doesn't typically spend her days balancing on demi-pointe in lace-up sneakers, wearing the briefest of running shorts and a T-shirt knotted jauntily above her hips. But Under Armour's series of “I Will What I Want" ads presents a portrait of this artist as an athlete—in the brand's athletic wear. And for the makers of the campaign, that sends exactly the right message.
“We are a disruptive brand: We look at things in a different way. We see women athletes as coming in all shapes and sizes, and Misty, to us, is part of that," says Under Armour vice president of marketing for its women's division, Heidi Sandreuter. “She doesn't fit a traditional mold. She allows us to represent a broader spectrum of athleticism."