Dance makes music: Kanye West & Ulysses Dove


It may be old news that Kanye’s a douche, but I do like to track ballet’s convergence with pop culture (can we say Black Swan). His stylish Runaway video highlights a cluster of black-clad ballet dancers, but suffers from being choreographically thin. They clump more than they move. Two of the three soloists, the blonde and the shorter brunette, have enough chops to blend hip hop’s double-jointed easy upper body with ballet’s sculpted stretch, but they aren’t given enough of a challenge.

To see a ballet dancer (whose traditional movements grow straight up and out like a tree) embrace the demands of hip hop dance (which breaks those lines by using every joint as a hinge), nothing beats Alex Wong’s joyous performance on So You Think You Can Dance:



An even better cross-pollination between the two styles is John Lennon da Silva’s hip hop reimagining of The Dying Swan, an iconic ballerina solo (watch the original). It sounds comic, but it’s dead earnest, and beautiful. via Maria Kochetkova



For what Runaway could have been, I look to the work of Ulysses Dove, a standout choreographer fusing ballet and modern dance, whose career was cut short by AIDS. Choreographers of his caliber aren’t thick on the ground, but Kanye missed an opportunity to engage a heavy hitter.




Dove’s impassioned process is particularly interesting. (I first saw it in action as part of Frederick Wiseman’s Ballet, an Altmanesque documentary on American Ballet Theatre shot in 1992, which I highly recommend. Last year he followed up with La Danse, about the Paris Opera Ballet.) He’s performing his own soundtrack as he teaches, punctuating his gestures with breath, song, sounds, chants: HAH BOOM BAH Ah, brrrra hrrrrra-uha hurrruha-ah *quick puff* *Heavy Gasp* It’s the most compelling coaching of dancers I’ve ever seen. I can’t imagine being in the same room with him and not answering his call. Kanye—that’s what dance really sounds like.



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2 Responses to “Dance makes music: Kanye West & Ulysses Dove”
  1. Heather says:

    I remember seeing Ulysses Dove’s “Bad Blood” with Alvin Ailey’s company many years ago, and it always stuck with me. However, I can’t find any footage. It was an extremely athletic piece.

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