The Complicatist : Miley Cyrus, and Dancing About Architecture

Feet don’t fail my words
by Gordon Campbell

A few weeks ago 20 year old Miley Cyrus shocked the world to its marrow by simulating sex in her underwear with Robin Thicke at the VMA awards. As the AV club indicated, this caused the rest of adult America to pause from making potato salad for the church picnic, in order to express dismay that a young female pop star would make such a scandalous bid for the attention they are clearly not getting at home. (Somewhat unfairly, the young kids watching this wanton display lack Miley’s ready access to a dance instructor, or to similar focus group-tested ways of sticking it to their parents in public. Miley did it for them, too.)

You be the judge whether simulating sex, wearing underwear in public or sharing a stage with Robin Thicke qualifies as the most shocking aspect of her carry on… but in any case, you’re not her Mom. In Old Testament fashion, Miley’s father Billy Ray Cyrus has hung his head in this fantastic interview in which he blames David Lynch, Satan and his own lax parenting for what has happened.

The interview also includes this sentence, which is one of the finest sentences of our time:

Soon he is telling me his whole origin story: how he wanted, and expected, to become the catcher for the Cincinnati Reds until he won a radio competition for concert tickets while he was working in a Kentucky tobacco warehouse, and how Neil Diamond paused during the song “Holly Holy” to say, “I don’t care if you’re white or black, rich or poor, man or woman, if you believe in your dreams and you live for the light and God’s love, you can be anything you want to be in this world,” and how at that very moment Cyrus felt as though hands were covering his entire body and he heard a voice he took to be God’s telling him that he had to buy a guitar.

As you’ll recall, Miley Cyrus danced with a troupe of teddy bears on stage and wore a teddy bear costume herself, before stripping off these emblems of childhood… and the rest is history.

None of this had very much to do with dancing, but the VMA routine did bring to the fore the relationship between dancing, music and provoking your parents. That’s something as old as the story of Salome in the Bible – although no one is talking about decapitating Robin Thicke at this point.

But as we know, all things evil – especially when it involves underwear – begin and end with Tom Cruise.

On a slightly related note, Frank Zappa did once famously claim that writing about music is like dancing about architecture – i.e. it is an inherently dumb, redundant and self-defeating thing to try and do.

I disagree. Arguably, some writing about music is more musical than some music, and some dancing (and some architecture) manages to convey more complex truths than many a pointy-headed essay. Moreover, dancing has always been about architecture – whether we’re talking about the architecture of the human body, or the rendering of shapes in the space available.

Which is a long way around of saying this month’s column is about music and dance. Since architecture isn’t going to get further mention, you should maybe spend some time looking at this slideshow of some of the fantastic homes designed by architect John Lautner.

Then there are these:

1. Slow Club : Two Cousins

These two performers pack a large chunk of the history of 20th century dance into this one video, while coolly evoking the Nicholas Brothers in particular. And with nonchalance, the lyrics cut pretty close to the bone: “Hold on / to where you’re from / it’s where your heart goes / when you’re down.”

2. Bill T. Jones : from ” Floating The Tongue”

In this four part extract from a larger work, the great dancer and teacher verbalizes the dance as he’s doing it. Not only does Jones make the art involved in this exercise as conscious as is humanly possible, he also – very amusingly – folds the babbling stream of consciousness we all have going on inside our heads, right into the performance itself. It is an extraordinary piece.


3. 2NE1 : I Am The Best

Don’t know much about K-Pop, and I’m assuming you’re one of the 76 million people who have seen 2NE1’s

original version of this video on Youtube. That’s why I’ve focussed on the choreography for the video – 2NE1 seems to make a habit of releasing these dance dub practice videos – and it gives some indication of the equal parts of sheer grind and inspiration that go into making candy cute Korean pop videos for the world.

4. Claude Francois : Mais Quand de Matin Quand, Marche Tout Droit, Rio,

If he’s remembered at all outside France, Claude Francois is probably known as the guy who first sang “My Way” – and who accidentally electrocuted himself in 1978 when he stood up to fix a shaky light fitting above his head, while having a bath. A couple of years ago a biopic of his life was released in France starring Jerome Renier (of Dardenne brothers fame) as Claude. In these clips, Francois does the twist out in the woods, and dances around with a cast of beauties called the Clodettes – who were a memorable presence in almost all his jaunty, likeable and Gallicly strange videos.

 
 

5. Loie Fuller : Danse Serpentine

Loie Fuller is a pretty useful reminder of how quickly fame can fade and be forgotten. Between the 1890s and late 1920s, this American dancer and innovator was one of the most famous artists on earth. She was a trail-blazing pioneer of stage lighting and dance theatre spectacle, the toast of Paris, the embodiment of Art Nouveau and the muse of Toulouse Lautrec and the symbolist poet Stephane Mallarme. She was the inspiration of a poem “When Loie Fuller’s Chinese Dancers Enwound” by W.B. Yeats. and as an aside, she was responsible for introducing the sculptor Auguste Rodin (her close friend and collaborator) to America. Today, she is almost unknown.

Fuller’s real medium was light. One 1907 critic rapturously described her inventions in stage lighting and projection : ” La Loie Fuller has put into practice her theory of the orchestration of light ; indeed, she plays what are virtually chromatic scales, harmonizing multifarious hues. With the imagination of an artist and a poet, in her six tableaux she paints pictures by means of light.” By 1925, Fuller was staging in Paris an abstract embodiment of the oceanic nature of life itself, via tremendous expanses of silk, played on in various hues via giant projectors. Again, the critics raved: “The effect was fluid drapery, a silken sea that rose and fell, rolled and ran, seethed and foamed.” As the modern critic Sharyn Udall says of her, Fuller began her career as a tantalizing abstraction of ethereal Womanhood, and ended up portraying the grand and unceasing dance of the sea itself. Needless to say, this film clip from the 1890s doesn’t do justice to her or her troupe, but its all we’ve got.


6. Sam & Dave : “I Thank You” Temptations : “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg” Lee Dorsey : “Ride Your Pony”

These clips from the mid-1960s indicate that dance was just as central an element as the church to the soul music styles

of the day. The spotlight is not only on Sam Moore and Dave Prater, but equally on the nifty dance moves of their backing band. “Ain’t To Proud To Beg” is from a point in time when the doomed David Ruffin of the Temptations seemed to be the coolest dude on the planet.

From another concert when Sam & Dave’s revue was in Germany during the 1960s, the New Orleans soul singer Lee Dorsey puts his best dance moves behind a great version of his hit song “Ride Your Pony.” Great audience reaction shots, too – as early as the mid 1960s, Germany must have been a pretty cool place.

 

7. Cyd Charisse : Silk Stockings, West Side Story : Dance in the Gym Ethiopia : Nightclub dancers.

In this clip, sex in the guise of silky American stockings defeats Communism! Yes, the great Cyd Charisse (playing an ultra-serious Russian detective) turns the photo of Lenin to the wall, kicks off her dowdy Communist clothes and succumbs to the decadent West. She puts on the best underwear and accessories that capitalism can buy, and dances the dance of consumerism and bodily liberation. Capitalism meanwhile, was collapsing from within – as West Side Story indicated – thanks to its own hedonistic impulses, racial and political divisions and propensity for violence. Lastly, a fine time out at night in Addis Ababa, and an occasion when the dancing – I’ll agree with Zappa this time – speaks for itself;