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Pop meets Ballet 2 photo by Joshua Martens photo by Joshua Martens

Ballet Meets Pop

Editor’s note: The following guest post is by The Ballet Bag (@theballetbag), an online resource for the best of ballet around the web. In their previous guest post, they gave us their take on dance and social media.

One of our favorite topics is ballet’s potential for crossover with other art forms. Just as with fashion and photography, ballet also naturally lends itself to collaborations with pop music as a means to captivate new, younger audiences and break with conventions. One of the most successful “indie rock ballets” of all time, Wayne McGregor’s “Chroma”, is so closely associated with its score that it has been nicknamed the “White Stripes ballet”.

Just as with fashion and photography, ballet also naturally lends itself to collaborations with pop music as a means to captivate new, younger audiences and break with conventions.
The Ballet Bag

While Chroma is  to be staged for the first time at the National Ballet of Canada this November (followed by appearances at the San Francisco Ballet and at the Bolshoi in 2011), a whole new gamut of pop ballets have surfaced recently. An example is “Oh, Inverted World” a new work by Dance Pulp guest Trey McIntyre which premiered last month at Smuin Ballet: eight off-pointe sections match tracks by indie rockers The Shins (remember them from Natalie Portman’s iPod in Garden State?). Another is choreographer Justin Peck’s new piece, unveiled at NYCB’s Choreographic Institute 10th Anniversary, featuring music by perennially cool indie artist Sujfan Stevens.

Pop and ballet also collaborate in the other direction, with mainstream music artists using dance to emphasise the emotional punch of a song (best example: Gronemeyer’s famous collaboration with Polina Semionova) or just to add something extra; to set a particular mood to videoclips or album covers, like Rihanna walking en pointe in Umbrella (yes, a tad cliché) and the cover art for Kanye’s West recent single Runaway (slightly less so…).

Below we recap on our favorite collaborations between these two worlds:

Lady Gaga and the Bolshoi

Lady Gaga and dancers from the Bolshoi Ballet featured in a gala piece created by performance artist Francesco Vezzoli for the Museum of Contemporary Art in LA. The full work – “Ballets Russes Italian Style (The Shortest Musical You Will Never See Again)” – was performed at MOCA one year ago where Gaga also released her single Speechless. Some snippets made their way onto YouTube:

MGMT Video for It’s Working

A ballet dancer descends from the skies and stands en pointe atop a rock star’s shoulders. Ballet is quoted en passant but in a fun, fresh way; we like it much better than the cheesy ballerinas in the videoclip of “Better Than Love” by synthpop duo Hurts.

The White Stripes and Chroma

British composer Joby Talbot orchestrated several White Stripes songs (including “The Hardest Button to Button”, “Blue Orchid” and “Aluminum”), providing an energetic, screeching backdrop to McGregor’s edgy choreography:

Scissor Sisters – Nightwork

Released a few months before Kanye West also used ballet as album artwork, this risqué cover features a shot of the buttocks of deceased dancer Peter Reed, taken by famous photographer Robert Mapplethorpe.

Alessandra Ferri and Sting

Alessandra’s husband Fabrizio Ferri is a renowned fashion photographer, architect, clothes designer and musician who happens to be friends with Sting. He produced in 2008 a short film of Alessandra dancing to choreography by Heinz Spoerli, while Sting played a guitar transposition of the Prelude from Bach’s Cello Suite No 1 in G major. The video went viral on YT where it has gathered millions of views:

Leave a reply below and tell us: what is your dream pop & ballet collaboration?

Post by The Ballet Bag

The Ballet Bag is an online resource for the best of ballet around the web: performances, companies, dancers, interviews and other websites. With the aim to “Give Ballet a New Spin” and make it more accessible editors Emilia and Linda write original content that mashes up the world of dance with pop culture. They use social media to network with dance fans, companies, dancers, writers, bloggers, etc. sharing what’s good, fun and interesting in the balletsphere.

Comments (5)

  1. Joshua Martens November 9, 2010 at 10:18 am

    Thanks Emilia and Linda!

    As a non-dancer, I love seeing how dance (ballet in particular) works its way into, and affects, the mainstream – pop music being the pinnacle of the mainstream. Ballet often feels like an isolated bubble with aging patrons. I find it fascinating to see how it unintentionally holds a long reach that can be recognized in most other art forms. (photography, painting, music, film, sculpture, fashion)

    It certainly has been the subject of endless artists, but despite this, somehow escapes the collective understanding, acceptance, and support of the mainstream. Instead, it remains misunderstood, fancy, and inaccessible.

    Can pop culture help dance?

  2. La Darina November 10, 2010 at 8:10 pm

    I agree with above comment. It’s really interesting to see how ballet still retains its mystique despite not making much of an effort to break out of its bubble. I think pop culture can help dance but ultimately dance needs to help itself too – at least it sounds like the choreographers listed in this post understand this…

  3. Sara January 2, 2011 at 12:25 am

    I loved Chroma by Wayne McGregor. I first saw it in Stuttgart, a company with fabulous dancers.
    The idea of pop mixed with ballet will become more mainstream now after “Black Swan,” I’m sure.

    I think it makes sense incorporating the two, pop and ballet, but it does depend on the work in question. I still want to see the classics remain. They are the foundation and there’s nothing like a live orchestra.

    Another great piece of choreography is Vapour Plains, by Evan McKie, a Principal with Stuttgart Ballet. His choice of music is fascinating with the piece.

    If you are familiar with Evan, you will likely have seen it.

    Let’s hope the pop/ballet mix works to draw larger audiences from various age groups. So many people miss out on such beauty.

  4. Robert Young January 23, 2011 at 9:38 am

    Given the mention of Kanye West’s album cover, I thought this might be worth noting.

    • Sharen Lynes May 24, 2017 at 4:25 am

      Well done Kanye. About time ballet started to get in the groove! Think of the spectacular shows and mind blowing choreography that could be achieved in this beautiful art form with the aid of modern mind blowing beats! Come on ballet world, get WITH IT!

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