Watch Prince Bust Some Eye-Popping Moves in Rehearsal Footage from 1984

Dance was as much a baked-in part of Prince’s allure, as his sug­ges­tive lyrics and mas­tery of mul­ti­ple instru­ments.

The pub­lic got its first taste of his affin­i­ty for the form at a John Hay ele­men­tary school tal­ent show to which he con­tributed a tap rou­tine, and again at a James Brown con­cert at the Min­neapo­lis Armory, when the 10-year-old  briefly hopped onstage to mash pota­to, an inci­dent he recalled in a 1985 inter­view with MTV.

He received for­mal train­ing at the Min­neso­ta Dance The­atre, as a teenaged par­tic­i­pant in the city’s Urban Arts Pro­gram, and rehearsed obses­sive­ly.

Chore­o­g­ra­ph­er Cat Glover, a fre­quent col­lab­o­ra­tor, told Mpls. St. Paul Mag­a­zine:

He would push him­self to the lim­it all the time. He made it look easy, but every­thing that looked easy was three months’ rehearsal. It was nev­er easy.

The above rehearsal footage from the sum­mer of 1984 doesn’t show the sweat, but the chore­og­ra­phy is obvi­ous­ly demand­ing. Prince leaps, squats, pirou­ettes, throws him­self into James Brown splits, and exe­cutes a flur­ry of pre­ci­sion dance moves —  in wicked high heeled boots.

“He ruined his hips on those damn high heels he used to wear” accord­ing to Min­neapo­lis-area chore­o­g­ra­ph­er, John Com­mand, who worked with Prince and the cast of Pur­ple Rain, for near­ly a year before shoot­ing began:

We would do Broad­way stuff, Bob Fos­se, Jer­ry Rob­bins who did West Side Sto­ry. A lot of that is very dif­fi­cult stuff and he loved it.

Glover recalled how Prince would vis­it dance clubs to check par­ty­go­ers’ response to his music:

For one of his songs to get record­ed it had to come with every­thing. If your feet aren’t tap­ping, if your feet aren’t bop­ping, it’s not good enough. If you can’t dance with music then it’s no good.

In 1989, when he opened his Glam Slam night­club, he insist­ed on a res­i­dent dance troupe, and made them a pri­or­i­ty. Its chore­o­g­ra­ph­er, Kat Car­roll remem­bered how dancers were held to the same exact­ing stan­dards Prince set for him­self:

We worked very hard, and he treat­ed us very well and he paid us very well. But he also expect­ed us to be on top of things, just like his musi­cians. We worked long hours, many times dur­ing the week.

Prince kept up with the pro­fes­sion­al dance world, offer­ing to write a piece for Chicago’s Jof­frey Bal­let, and waiv­ing his roy­al­ties when they per­formed to it, a move that lift­ed the com­pa­ny from finan­cial dis­as­ter in the 90s and increased their audi­ence base.

He recruit­ed bal­le­ri­na Misty Copeland to tour with him begin­ning in 2009, six years before she made his­to­ry as the first Black prin­ci­pal dancer in the Amer­i­can Bal­let The­ater, anoth­er com­pa­ny to which he donat­ed gen­er­ous­ly.

He was a fan of avant-garde chore­o­g­ra­ph­er Moses Pendle­ton, founder of MOMIX and co-founder of Pilobo­lus Dance The­ater, but also the dance stylings of Paul “Pee-wee Her­man” Reubens.

As Copeland rem­i­nisced to GQ  short­ly after Prince’s death:

There was one Pee-wee Her­man movie that he was obsessed with. It was sil­ly, like him, and fun­ny, and quirky—watching Pee-wee Her­man dance he just thought was the fun­ni­est thing.


For those won­der­ing about the sound­track to the rehearsal footage at the top of the page, it’s Prince’s orig­i­nal stu­dio ver­sion of “Noth­ing Com­pares 2 U” record­ed in that same room, that same sum­mer. Six years lat­er, Sinead O’Connor’s cov­er became a glob­al hit.

Relat­ed Con­tent 

Hear a 19-Year-Old Prince Crush­ing It on Every Instru­ment in an Ear­ly Jam Ses­sion (1977)

Prince’s First Tele­vi­sion Inter­view (1985)

Watch Prince Play Jazz Piano & Coach His Band Through George Gershwin’s “Sum­mer­time” in a Can­did, Behind-the-Scenes Moment (1990)

Read Prince’s First Inter­view, Print­ed in His High School News­pa­per (1976)

- Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo.  Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

The History of Disco Visualized on a Circuit Diagram of a Klipschorn Speaker: Features 600 Musicians, DJs, Producers, Clubs & Record Labels

Half a cen­tu­ry after it was birthed in New York’s black, Lati­no and gay under­ground club scene–and near­ly 45 years after the infa­mous Dis­co Demo­li­tion in Chicago’s Comiskey Park–dis­co is final­ly being accord­ed some respect in the annals of music his­to­ry.

Even those who remain imper­vi­ous to dis­co fever seem will­ing to acknowl­edge its cul­tur­al sig­nif­i­cance as evi­denced by a recent exchange on the Trouser Press forum:

It was every­where and could indeed get tire­some. But today I can appre­ci­ate how well put-togeth­er those records by an artist like the Bee Gees were…

Hear­ing tech­no for the first time in the ear­ly 90s, and real­iz­ing it was just dis­co in a new, all-elec­tron­ic pack­age, made me real­ize how good a lot of it was…

I remem­ber see­ing (A Taste of Hon­ey) on The Mid­night Spe­cial. It was the first time I’d seen a band with female mem­bers play­ing instru­ments…

Hav­ing pre­vi­ous­ly cel­e­brat­ed the his­to­ry of hip-hop, UK-based design stu­dio Dorothy gives dis­co its due with a blue­print pay­ing trib­ute to the many artists who made the form what it was, from foun­da­tion lay­ers like Ted­dy Pen­der­grass, Mar­vin Gaye, and James Brown to such trail­blaz­ing super­stars as Don­na Sum­mer, Glo­ria Gaynor, Sylvester, Chic and the Bee Gees.

The Dis­co Love Blue­print also name checks some of disco’s influ­en­tial pro­duc­ers, DJs, and labels, along with water­shed moments like 1969’s Stonewall Upris­ing and 1977’s Sat­ur­day Night Fever, report­ed­ly film crit­ic Gene Siskel’s favorite movie.

And while the dis­co explo­sion even­tu­al­ly saw young straight sin­gles doing the Bump in Indi­anapo­lis, Phoenix, and Spokane, Dorothy sticks close to the epi­cen­ter by includ­ing such leg­endary New York City clubs as Stu­dio 54, The Gallery, Par­adise Garage, The Saint, and The Loft, a pri­vate dis­cotheque in DJ David Man­cu­so’s Low­er Man­hat­tan apart­ment.

In Bill Brewster’s Last Night a DJ Saved My Life: The His­to­ry of the Disc Jock­ey, Man­cu­so’s audio engi­neer, Alex Ros­ner, recalled the Loft’s clien­tele as being “prob­a­bly about six­ty per­cent black and sev­en­ty per­cent gay:”

There was a mix of sex­u­al ori­en­ta­tion, there was a mix of races, mix of eco­nom­ic groups. A real mix, where the com­mon denom­i­na­tor was music.

One can’t men­tion the music at The Loft with­out giv­ing props to the inno­v­a­tive and effi­cient sound sys­tem Ros­ner devised for Mancuso’s 1,850-square-foot space, using a McIn­tosh ampli­fi­er, an AR ampli­fi­er, Vega bass bot­tom speak­ers, and two Klip­schorn Corn­wall loud­speak­ers, whose cir­cuit dia­gram inspired the Dis­co Love Blue­print­’s lay­out.

As com­pos­er and pro­duc­er Matt Som­mers told The Vinyl Fac­to­ry, those speak­ers sur­round­ed dancers with the sort of high vol­ume, undis­tort­ed sound they could lose them­selves in:

…the Man­cu­so par­ties were unique because what he did was take it to a whole oth­er lev­el and cre­at­ed that envel­op­ment expe­ri­ence where you could real­ly get lost and I think that’s what peo­ple love about that, because you can just let your trou­bles go and enjoy it.

Get Dorothy’s Dis­co Love Blue­print, fea­tur­ing 600 musi­cians, DJs, pro­duc­ers, clubs and record labels here.

Relat­ed Con­tent

The His­to­ry of Jazz Visu­al­ized on a Cir­cuit Dia­gram of a 1950s Phono­graph: Fea­tures 1,000+ Musi­cians, Artists, Song­writ­ers and Pro­duc­ers

The His­to­ry of Rock Mapped Out on the Cir­cuit Board of a Gui­tar Ampli­fi­er: 1400 Musi­cians, Song­writ­ers & Pro­duc­ers

Dia­gram of a 1950s Theremin: 200 Inven­tors, Com­posers & Musi­cians

A His­to­ry of Alter­na­tive Music Bril­liant­ly Mapped Out on a Tran­sis­tor Radio Cir­cuit Dia­gram: 300 Punk, Alt & Indie Artists

The His­to­ry of Hip Hop Music Visu­al­ized on a Turntable Cir­cuit Dia­gram: Fea­tures 700 Artists, from DJ Kool Herc to Kanye West

How Gior­gio Moroder & Don­na Summer’s “I Feel Love” Cre­at­ed the “Blue­print for All Elec­tron­ic Dance Music Today” (1977)

The Untold Sto­ry of Dis­co and Its Black, Lati­no & LGBTQ Roots

– Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo and Cre­ative, Not Famous Activ­i­ty Book. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

Watch David Byrne Practice His Dance Moves for Stop Making Sense in Newly Released Behind-the-Scenes Footage

A new 4K restora­tion of Stop Mak­ing Sense debuted last month at the Toron­to Inter­na­tion­al Film Fes­ti­val, then opened in the­aters around the world. The pro­mo­tion­al push for this cul­tur­al event start­ed ear­ly (as fea­tured here on Open Cul­ture), and has involved the release of rarely-seen sup­ple­men­tary mate­ri­als cho­sen to delight Talk­ing Heads fans. Take the short video above, a com­pi­la­tion of video clips in which David Byrne rehears­es his dance moves in advance of the band’s 1983 Speak­ing in Tongues tour, four of whose shows would be com­bined, with the help of many col­lab­o­ra­tors includ­ing direc­tor Jonathan Demme, into a seam­less, still-beloved musi­cal-cin­e­mat­ic expe­ri­ence.

In a film full of mem­o­rable ele­ments, from the Pablo Fer­ro titles to the lamp to the big suit, Byrne’s dis­tinc­tive way of car­ry­ing him­self stands out. “His wide-eyed stare, jerky move­ments and onstage cool remind­ed many com­men­ta­tors of Antho­ny Perkins, star of Hitchcock’s movie Psy­cho,” Col­in Larkin writes of ear­li­er Heads shows in The Ency­clo­pe­dia of Pop­u­lar Music.

This elab­o­rate awk­ward­ness, so thor­ough­ly delib­er­ate-look­ing that it comes around the oth­er side to suavi­ty, may seem like a nat­ur­al expres­sion of his artis­tic per­son­al­i­ty. But as revealed by the video he shot of him­self try­ing out dif­fer­ent chore­o­graph­ic ideas — and even more so by the full 25-minute ver­sion, which fea­tures not just numer­ous VHS glitch­es but also the band’s back­up singers — it took tri­al and error to devel­op.

“The film’s peak moments come through Byrne’s sim­ple phys­i­cal pres­ence,” Roger Ebert wrote of Stop Mak­ing Sense upon its ini­tial release in 1984. “He jogs in place with his side­men; he runs around the stage; he seems so hap­py to be alive and mak­ing music,” and even “serves as a reminder of how sour and weary and strung-out many rock bands have become.” Though, when rock bands may be less strung-out but are cer­tain­ly no less weary, his restored per­for­mance is remind­ing count­less Heads enthu­si­asts why they got into the band in the first place — and no doubt giv­ing hereto­fore unini­ti­at­ed new gen­er­a­tions a few para­noical­ly exu­ber­ant, rigid­ly unin­hib­it­ed, and smooth­ly un-smooth moves to try out on the dance floor them­selves.

Relat­ed con­tent:

A Brief His­to­ry of Talk­ing Heads: How the Band Went from Scrap­py CBGB’s Punks to New Wave Super­stars

David Byrne Plays Sev­en Char­ac­ters & Inter­views Him­self in Fun­ny Pro­mo for Stop Mak­ing Sense

How Jonathan Demme Put Human­i­ty Into His Films: From The Silence of the Lambs to Stop Mak­ing Sense

David Byrne Explains How the “Big Suit” He Wore in Stop Mak­ing Sense Was Inspired by Japan­ese Kabu­ki The­atre

How Talk­ing Heads and Bri­an Eno Wrote “Once in a Life­time”: Cut­ting Edge, Strange & Utter­ly Bril­liant

Talk­ing Heads Live in Rome, 1980: The Con­cert Film You Haven’t Seen

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

The Untold Story of Disco and Its Black, Latino & LGBTQ Roots

As a white Mid­west­ern child of the ‘70s, I received two mes­sages loud and clear: dis­co was a breath­tak­ing­ly glam­orous, sexy urban scene, and “dis­co sucks.”

Cul­tur­al­ly, the lat­ter pre­vailed.

It was the opin­ion voiced most loud­ly by the pop­u­lar boys.

Dis­senters pushed back at their own per­il.

I didn’t know what YMCA was about, and I’m not con­vinced the ski jack­et­ed, puka-neck­laced alpha males at my school did either.

(My father, who sang along joy­ful­ly when­ev­er it came on the car radio, def­i­nite­ly did.)

Disco’s been dead for a long time now.

In the four plus decades since dis­grun­tled Chica­go radio DJ Steve Dahl com­man­deered a base­ball sta­di­um for a Dis­co Demo­li­tion Night where fans tossed around homo­pho­bic and racist epi­thets while destroy­ing records, there’s been notable social progress.

This progress is the lens that makes Noah Lefevre’s Poly­phon­ic video essay The Untold His­to­ry of Dis­co, and oth­er inves­ti­ga­tions into the racial and sex­u­al under­pin­nings of dis­co pos­si­ble.

I cer­tain­ly nev­er heard of Stonewall as a kid, but many con­tem­po­rary view­ers, com­ing of age in a coun­try that is, on the whole, much more LGBTQ-friend­ly than the world of their par­ents and grand­par­ents, are famil­iar with it as a gay rights mile­stone.

Lefevre ties the birth of dis­co to the 1969 Stonewall Upris­ing, and a sub­cul­ture born of neces­si­ty, where­in gay men impro­vised under­ground dance clubs where they could cut freely loose with same sex part­ners.

Instead of live dance music, these venues boast­ed DJs, crate dig­gers open to any groove that would keep the par­ty going on the dance floor: psy­che­del­ic, clas­sic soul, pro­gres­sive soul, jazz fusion, Latin Amer­i­can dance music, African pop…

(Thus the name dis­cotheque)

A dis­co sound began to coa­lesce around exist­ing hits as the O‑jays’ Love Train and Isaac Hayes’ Theme from Shaft.

You can hear it in Jim­my Nolen’s chick­en scratch lead gui­tar for James Brown and ses­sion drum­mer Earl Young’s open high hat and four-to-the-floor beat on Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes’ The Love I Lost.

In the begin­ning, crowds were pri­mar­i­ly Black, Lati­no and gay at New York City dis­cos like The Loft, which start­ed out as a rent par­ty, and The Sanc­tu­ary, housed in a decon­se­crat­ed mid­town Ger­man Bap­tist church. Map­plethor­pe mod­el Leigh Lee recalled The Sanctuary’s cachet to the Vil­lage Voice’s Peter Braun­stein:

It was sup­posed to be a secret, but I don’t know how secret it could have been when fag­gots and les­bians can come out of a church from mid­night till sun­rise.

As dis­cotheque DJs began dri­ving the record charts, main­stream pro­duc­ers took note, open­ing the gates for such mon­ster hits as the Bar­ry White-helmed Love Unlim­it­ed Orchestra’s Love’s Theme, Don­na Summer’s Love to Love Ya, and Chic’s Le Freak.

A glit­ter-bedecked nude man rode a white horse into Bian­ca Jagger’s birth­day par­ty at Stu­dio 54 on the stroke of mid­night, while hin­ter­land squares did The Hus­tle at their local Hol­i­day Inns. 

By the time celebs like the Rolling Stones and Rod Stew­art start­ing horn­ing in on the act, dis­co had already reached its tip­ping point.

Lit­tle twerps like me, whose moth­ers wouldn’t let them see the R‑rated Sat­ur­day Night Fever bought Bee Gees 45s from our local Peach­es and sang along to Glo­ria Gaynor’s I Will Sur­vive, as did some of our dads…

(An unex­pect­ed plea­sure of Lefevre’s video is see­ing all those famil­iar record labels spin­ning just the way they did on our pre­cious stere­os — Atlantic! Casablan­ca! Poly­dor! RSO!  Some­body pass me a Dr. Pep­per and a yel­low plas­tic insert!)

Radio DJ Rick Dees’ nov­el­ty hit with Dis­co Duck seemed so harm­less at the time, but it was sure­ly music to the main­stream “dis­co sucks” crowd’s ears. (Good luck to any punk who betrayed a fond­ness for Dis­co Duck )

Disco’s reign was brief — Lefevre notes that its end coin­cides with the begin­ning of the AIDS cri­sis — but its impact has been greater than many assume at first blush.

Disco’s empha­sis on turnta­bles and long play ver­sions influ­enced hip hop and elec­tron­ic dance music.

Near­ly half a cen­tu­ry after dis­co­ma­nia seized the land, its deep con­nec­tion to Black, Lati­no and LGBTQ his­to­ry must not be tossed aside light­ly.

Watch more of Noah Lefevre’s Poly­phon­ic video essays here.

Relat­ed Con­tent 

Dis­co Demo­li­tion Night: Scenes from the Night Dis­co Died (or Did It?) at Chicago’s Comiskey Park, 1979

Two Decades of Fire Island DJ Sets Get Unearthed, Dig­i­tized & Put Online: Stream 232 Mix­tapes Online (1979–1999)

How Gior­gio Moroder & Don­na Summer’s “I Feel Love” Cre­at­ed the “Blue­print for All Elec­tron­ic Dance Music Today” (1977)

- Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo. Her Indi­ana ties result­ed in an invi­ta­tion to Rick “Dis­co Duck” Dees’ 1977 wed­ding. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

Meet Anita Berber, the Cabaret Star Who Scandalized Weimar-Era Berlin

Ani­ta Berber, the taboo-bust­ing, sex­u­al­ly omniv­o­rous, fash­ion for­ward, fre­quent­ly naked star of the Weimar Repub­lic cabaret scene, tops our list of per­form­ers we real­ly wish we’d been able to see live.

While Berber act­ed in 27 films, includ­ing Pros­ti­tu­tion, direc­tor Fritz Lang’s Dr. Mabuse: The Gam­bler, and Dif­fer­ent from the Oth­ers, which film crit­ic Den­nis Har­vey describes as “the first movie to por­tray homo­sex­u­al char­ac­ters beyond the usu­al innu­en­do and ridicule,” we have a strong hunch that none of these appear­ances can com­pete with the sheer audac­i­ty of her stage work.

Audi­ences at Berlin’s White Mouse cabaret (some wear­ing black or white masks to con­ceal their iden­ti­ties) were tit­il­lat­ed by her Expres­sion­is­tic nude solo chore­og­ra­phy, as well as the troupe of six teenaged dancers under her com­mand.

As biog­ra­ph­er Mel Gor­don writes in The Sev­en Addic­tions and Five Pro­fes­sions of Ani­ta Berber: Weimar Berlin’s Priest­ess of Deprav­i­ty, Berber, often described as a “strip­per”, dis­played the pas­sion of a seri­ous artist, “respond(ing) to the audience’s heck­ling with show-stop­ping obscen­i­ties and inde­cent provo­ca­tions:”

Berber had been known to spit brandy on them or stand naked on their tables, dous­ing her­self in wine whilst simul­ta­ne­ous­ly uri­nat­ing… It was not long before the entire cabaret one night sank into a groundswell of shout­ing, screams and laugh­ter.  Ani­ta jumped off the stage in fum­ing rage, grabbed the near­est cham­pagne bot­tle and smashed it over a businessman’s head.

Her col­lab­o­ra­tions with her sec­ond hus­band, dancer Sebas­t­ian Droste, car­ried Berber into increas­ing­ly trans­gres­sive ter­ri­to­ry, both onstage and off.

Accord­ing to trans­la­tor Mer­rill Cole, in the intro­duc­tion to the 2012 reis­sue of Dances of Vice, Hor­ror and Ecsta­sy, a book of Expres­sion­ist poems, essays, pho­tographs, and stage designs which Droste and Berber co-authored, “even the bio­graph­i­cal details seduce:”

…a bisex­u­al some­times-pros­ti­tute and a shady fig­ure from the male homo­sex­u­al under­world, unit­ed in addic­tion to cocaine and dis­dain for bour­geois respectabil­i­ty, both high­ly tal­ent­ed, Expres­sion­ist-trained dancers, both beau­ti­ful exhi­bi­tion­ists, set out to pro­vide the Baby­lon on the Spree with the ulti­mate expe­ri­ence of deprav­i­ty, using an art form they had helped to invent for this pur­pose. Their brief mar­riage and artis­tic inter­ac­tion end­ed when Droste became des­per­ate for drugs and abscond­ed with Berber’s jew­el col­lec­tion.

This, and the descrip­tion of Berber’s pen­chant for “haunt(ing) Weimar Berlin’s hotel lob­bies, night­clubs and casi­nos, radi­ant­ly naked except for an ele­gant sable wrap, a pet mon­key hang­ing from her neck, and a sil­ver brooch packed with cocaine,” do a far more evoca­tive job of res­ur­rect­ing Berber, the Weimar sen­sa­tion, than any wordy, blow-by-blow attempt to recre­ate her shock­ing per­for­mances, though we can’t fault author Karl Toepfer, Pro­fes­sor Emer­i­tus of The­ater Arts at San Jose State Uni­ver­si­ty, for try­ing.

In Empire of Ecsta­sy: Nudi­ty and Move­ment in Ger­man Body Cul­ture, 1910–1935, Toepfer draws heav­i­ly on Czech chore­o­g­ra­ph­er Joe Jenčík’s eye­wit­ness obser­va­tions, to recon­struct Berber’s most noto­ri­ous dance, Cocaine, begin­ning with the “omi­nous scenery by Har­ry Täu­ber fea­tur­ing a tall lamp on a low, cloth-cov­ered table:”

This lamp was an expres­sion­ist sculp­ture with an ambigu­ous form that one could read as a sign of the phal­lus, an abstrac­tion of the female dancer’s body, or a mon­u­men­tal image of a syringe, for a long, shiny nee­dle pro­trud­ed from the top of it…It is not clear how nude Berber was when she per­formed the dance. Jenčík, writ­ing in 1929, flat­ly stat­ed that she was nude, but the famous Vien­nese pho­tog­ra­ph­er Madame D’O­ra (Dora Kalmus) took a pic­ture enti­tled “Kokain” in which Berber appears in a long black dress that expos­es her breasts and whose lac­ing, up the front, reveals her flesh to below her navel.

In any case, accord­ing to Jenčík, she dis­played “a sim­ple tech­nique of nat­ur­al steps and unforced pos­es.” But though the tech­nique was sim­ple, the dance itself, one of Berber’s most suc­cess­ful cre­ations, was appar­ent­ly quite com­plex. Ris­ing from an ini­tial con­di­tion of paral­y­sis on the floor (or pos­si­bly from the table, as indi­cat­ed by Täu­ber’s sceno­graph­ic notes), she adopt­ed a pri­mal move­ment involv­ing a slow, sculp­tured turn­ing of her body, a kind of slow-motion effect. The turn­ing rep­re­sent­ed the unrav­el­ing of a “knot of flesh.” But as the body uncoiled, it con­vulsed into “sep­a­rate parts,” pro­duc­ing a vari­ety of rhythms with­in itself. Berber used all parts of her body to con­struct a “trag­ic” con­flict between the healthy body and the poi­soned body: she made dis­tinct rhythms out of the move­ment of her mus­cles; she used “unex­pect­ed counter-move­ments” of her head to cre­ate an anguished sense of bal­ance; her “porce­lain-col­ored arms” made hyp­not­ic, pen­du­lum­like move­ments, like a mar­i­onet­te’s; with­in the pri­mal turn­ing of her body, there appeared con­tra­dic­to­ry turns of her wrists, tor­so, ankles; the rhythm of her breath­ing fluc­tu­at­ed with dra­mat­ic effect; her intense dark eyes fol­lowed yet anoth­er, slow­er rhythm; and she intro­duced the “most refined nuances of agili­ty” in mak­ing spasms of sen­sa­tion rip­ple through her fin­gers, nos­trils, and lips. Yet, despite all this com­plex­i­ty, she was not afraid of seem­ing “ridicu­lous” or “painful­ly swollen.” The dance con­clud­ed when the con­vulsed dancer attempt­ed to cry out (with the “blood-red open­ing of the mouth”) and could not. The dancer then hurled her­self to the floor and assumed a pose of motion­less, drugged sleep. Berber’s dance dra­ma­tized the intense ambi­gu­i­ty involved in link­ing the ecsta­t­ic lib­er­a­tion of the body to nudi­ty and rhyth­mic con­scious­ness. The dance tied ecsta­t­ic expe­ri­ence to an encounter with vice (addic­tion) and hor­ror (acute aware­ness of death).

A noble attempt, but for­give us if we can’t quite pic­ture it…

And what lit­tle evi­dence has been pre­served of her screen appear­ances exists at a sim­i­lar remove from  the dark sub­ject mat­ter she explic­it­ly ref­er­enced in her chore­o­graphed work — Mor­phine, Sui­cideThe Corpse on the Dis­sect­ing Table…

Cole opines:

There are a num­ber of nar­ra­tive accounts of her dances, some pinned by pro­fes­sion­al crit­ics, and almost all com­mend­ing her tal­ent, finesse, and mes­mer­iz­ing stage pres­ence. We also have film images from the var­i­ous silent films in which she played bit parts. There exist, too, many still pho­tographs of Berber and Droste, as well as ren­di­tions of Berber by oth­er artists, most promi­nent­ly the Dadaist Otto Dix’s famous scar­let-sat­u­rat­ed por­trait. In regard to the naked dances, unfor­tu­nate­ly, we have no mov­ing images, no way to watch direct­ly how they were per­formed.

For a dishy overview of Ani­ta Berber’s per­son­al life, includ­ing her alleged dal­liances with actress Mar­lene Diet­rich, author Lawrence Dur­rell, and the King of Yugoslavia, her influ­en­tial effect on direc­tor Leni Riefen­stahl, and her sad demise at the age of 29, a “car­rion soul that even the hye­nas ignored,” take a peek at Vic­to­ria Linchong’s bio­graph­i­cal essay for Messy Nessy Chic, or bet­ter yet, Iron Spike’s Twit­ter thread.

via Messy Nessy

- Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo.  Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

Relat­ed Con­tent 

Expe­ri­ence Footage of Roar­ing 1920s Berlin, Restored & Col­orized with Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence

The Nazis’ 10 Con­trol-Freak Rules for Jazz Per­form­ers: A Strange List from World War II

Down­load Hun­dreds of Issues of Jugend, Germany’s Pio­neer­ing Art Nou­veau Mag­a­zine (1896–1940)

Dick Van Dyke Still Dancing at 96!

Beloved com­ic actress Bet­ty White left some big shoes to fill last New Year’s Eve when she shocked the world by dying at the ten­der age of 99.

Who could pos­si­bly match her zest for life so many years into it?

Pag­ing Dick Van Dyke

The nim­ble-foot­ed 96-year-old has yet to host Sat­ur­day Night Live, but remains cul­tur­al­ly rel­e­vant nonethe­less, thanks to the endur­ing pop­u­lar­i­ty of his ear­ly work.

His ear­ly 60s sit­com, The Dick Van Dyke Show, was a sta­ple of ‘90s-era Nick at Nite.

Even Gen­er­a­tion Alpha knows who he is, thanks to his ever­green turn as Bert, the danc­ing chim­neysweep in Mary Pop­pins (1964).

The phys­i­cal grace he brought to such musi­cal fare as Bye Bye Birdie and Chit­ty Chit­ty Bang Bang is some­thing he delib­er­ate­ly strived for as a fan of silent com­e­dy’s greats, and at 96, it’s not some­thing he takes for grant­ed. He began strength train­ing many decades ago, after observ­ing Broad­way dancers’ work outs, and main­tains a dai­ly reg­i­men of crunch­es, leg lifts, and hip open­ers.

Like White, he thrives in the com­pa­ny of younger peo­ple.

He’s by far the old­est mem­ber of The Van­tastix, a bar­ber­shop quar­tet he formed in 2020.

And for those keep­ing score, he’s 46 years old­er than his bride of ten years, Arlene Sil­ver, who sings and dances with him in the above video (and directs, too.)

Yes, Van Dyke’s shoul­ders and tor­so may have stiff­ened a bit in the four years since Mary Pop­pins Returns  found him hop­ping atop a desk for a sprite­ly soft shoe, but the ease with which he pro­pels him­self from a low slung wing­back chair at the one-minute mark will strike many view­ers as noth­ing short of mirac­u­lous.

(For those admir­ing the decor, Fall­en Fruit’s recent SUPERSHOW instal­la­tion pro­vid­ed the video’s younger-than-spring­time set.)

Van Dyke’s loose limbed appeal is accom­pa­nied by a refresh­ing­ly flex­i­ble atti­tude, anoth­er way in which he mod­els health aging.

A year into his mar­riage to Sil­ver, he told Parade that they’re so well suit­ed because “she’s very mature for her age, and I’m very imma­ture for my age.”

“Imma­ture in a good way, Sil­ver clar­i­fied to Huff­Post, “with the won­der of a child”:

He’s just fun, he’s open mind­ed. He’s not stuck in his ways at all.

We take very good care of each oth­er. But, I’m very aware that I have a nation­al trea­sure on my hands.

No won­der peo­ple love him. As proof, wit­ness the twen­ty-some­thing leap­ing to their feet to give him an ova­tion, as he makes his entrance in Disneyland’s 60th-anniver­sary spe­cial six years ago.

12 sec­onds lat­er, the 90-year-old Van Dyke was also leap­ing.

“When peo­ple tell you you look good in your 90s, what they mean is you don’t look dead,” Van Dyke con­fid­ed in the late Carl Rein­er’s 2017 doc­u­men­tary, If You’re Not in the Obit, Eat Break­fast:

At 30, I exer­cised to look good. In my 50s, I exer­cised to stay fit. In my 70s, to stay ambu­la­to­ry. In my 80s, to avoid assist­ed liv­ing. Now, in my 90s, I’m just doing it out of pure defi­ance.

via Boing­Bo­ing

Relat­ed Con­tent 

The Pow­er of Pulp Fiction’s Dance Scene, Explained by Chore­o­g­ra­phers and Even John Tra­vol­ta Him­self

One of the Great­est Dances Sequences Ever Cap­tured on Film Gets Restored in Col­or by AI: Watch the Clas­sic Scene from Stormy Weath­er

The Icon­ic Dance Scene from Hel­lza­pop­pin’ Pre­sent­ed in Liv­ing Col­or with Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence (1941)

- Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo.  Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.


Watch a Joyful Video Where 52 Renowned Choreographers Link Together to Create a Dance Chain Letter

Dance videos are hav­ing a moment, fueled in large part by Tik­Tok.

Pro­fes­sion­als and ama­teurs alike use the plat­form to show­case their work, and while the vast major­i­ty of per­form­ers seem to be in or bare­ly out of their teens, a few danc­ing grand­mas have become viral stars. (One such notable brush­es off the atten­tion, say­ing she’s just “an elder­ly lady mak­ing a fool of her­self.”)

You’ll find a hand­ful of dancers hap­py to make sim­i­lar sport of them­selves among the 52 cel­e­brat­ed, most­ly mid­dle-aged and old­er chore­o­g­ra­phers per­form­ing in And So Say All of Us, Mitchell Rose’s chain let­ter style dance film, above. Wit­ness:

John Hegin­both­am’s sprite­ly bowl­ing alley turn, com­plete with refresh­ment stand nachos (4:10)…

Doug Varone’s deter­mi­na­tion to cram a bit of break­fast in before waft­ing out of a din­er booth (5:15)…

And the respons­es David Dorf­man, who both opens and clos­es the film, elic­its aboard the 2 train and wait­ing on the plat­form at Brooklyn’s Atlantic Avenue stop … con­ve­nient­ly sit­u­at­ed near com­mis­sion­ing body BAM (Brook­lyn Acad­e­my of Music).

In the sum­mer of 2017 — the same year Tik­Tok launched in the inter­na­tion­al mar­ket — BAM asked film­mak­er and for­mer chore­o­g­ra­ph­er Rose to cre­ate a short film that would fea­ture a num­ber of chore­o­g­ra­phers whom out­go­ing Exec­u­tive Pro­duc­er Joseph V. Melil­lo had nur­tured over the course of his 35-year tenure.

The result takes the form of an Exquis­ite Corpse, in which each per­former picks up where the per­former imme­di­ate­ly before left off . Quite a feat when one con­sid­ers that the con­trib­u­tors were spread all over the globe, and Rose had bare­ly a year to ready the film for its pre­miere at a gala hon­or­ing Melil­lo.

To get an idea of the degree of coor­di­na­tion and pre­ci­sion edit­ing this entailed, check out Rose’s detailed instruc­tions for Globe Trot, a crowd-sourced “hyper match cut” work in which 50 film­mak­ers in 23 coun­tries each con­tributed 2 sec­ond clips of non-dancers per­form­ing a piece chore­o­graphed by Bebe Miller (who appears fourth in And So Say All of Us).

A great plea­sure of And So Say All of Us — and it’s a sur­pris­ing one giv­en how accus­tomed we’ve grown to peer­ing in on work record­ed in artists’ pri­vate spaces – is see­ing the loca­tions. Ter­races and inte­ri­or spaces still fas­ci­nate, though the lack of masks in pop­u­lous pub­lic set­tings iden­ti­fy this as a decid­ed­ly pre-pan­dem­ic work.

Oth­er high­lights:

The com­par­a­tive still­ness of Eiko and Koma, the only per­form­ers to be filmed togeth­er (2:19)

Mered­ith Monk singing creek­side in an excerpt of Cel­lu­lar Songs, a nature-based piece that would also pre­miere at BAM in 2018 (5:51)

Mark Mor­ris’ glo­ri­ous reveal (6:59)

As with any Exquis­ite Corpse, the whole is greater than the sum of its (excel­lent) indi­vid­ual parts. Rose ties them togeth­er with a red through line, and an orig­i­nal score by Robert Een.

Par­tic­i­pat­ing chore­o­g­ra­phers in order of appear­ance:

David Dorf­man

Reg­gie Wil­son

Trey McIn­tyre

Bebe Miller

Kate Weare

Sean Cur­ran

Faye Driscoll

David Rous­seve

Gideon Obarzanek

Jodi Mel­nick

Jawole Willa Jo Zol­lar

Rodri­go Ped­erneiras

Eiko Otake

Koma Otake

Angelin Preljo­caj

Bren­da Way

Lin Hwai-min

Bri­an Brooks

Sasha Waltz

Don­ald Byrd

Stephen Petro­n­io

William Forsythe

Nora Chipau­mire

Karole Armitage

John Hegin­both­am

Miguel Gutier­rez

Eliz­a­beth Streb

Zvi Gothein­er

Ron K. Brown

Lar­ry Keig­win

Annie‑B Par­son

Doug Varone

Bill T. Jones

Ren­nie Har­ris

Ralph Lemon

Mered­ith Monk

Lucin­da Childs

Meryl Tankard

Ohad Naharin

Daniele Finzi Pas­ca

Ivy Bald­win

Mark Mor­ris

Susan Mar­shall

John Jasperse

Solo Bado­lo

Abdel Salaam

Mar­tin Zim­mer­mann

Aurélien Bory

Ben­jamin Millepied

Bren­da Ang­iel

James Thier­rée

Ken­neth Kvarn­ström

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Watch Awe­some Human Chore­og­ra­phy That Repro­duces the Mur­mu­ra­tions of Star­ling Flocks

The Mis­take Waltz: Watch the Hilar­i­ous Bal­let by Leg­endary Chore­o­g­ra­ph­er Jerome Rob­bins

A Dancer Pays a Grav­i­ty-Defy­ing Trib­ute to Claude Debussy

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo.  Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

When Maurice Sendak Created a Dark Nutcracker Ballet

Chil­dren are the per­fect audi­ence for The Nut­crack­er. 

(Well, chil­dren and the grand­moth­ers who can’t wait for the tod­dler to start sit­ting still long enough to make the hol­i­day-themed bal­let an annu­al tra­di­tion…)

Mau­rice Sendak, the cel­e­brat­ed children’s book author and illus­tra­tor, agreed, but found the stan­dard George Bal­an­chine-chore­o­graphed ver­sion so trea­cly as to be unwor­thy of chil­dren, dub­bing it the “most bland and banal of bal­lets.”

The 1983 pro­duc­tion he col­lab­o­rat­ed on with Pacif­ic North­west Bal­let artis­tic direc­tors Kent Stow­ell and Fran­cia Rus­sell did away with the notion that chil­dren should be “cod­dled and sweet­ened and sug­arplummed and kept away from the dark aspects of life when there is no way of doing that.”

Tchaikovsky’s famous score remained in place, but Sendak and Stow­ell ducked the source mate­r­i­al for, well, more source mate­r­i­al. As per the New York City Ballet’s web­site, the Russ­ian Impe­r­i­al Ballet’s chief bal­let mas­ter, Mar­ius Peti­pa, com­mis­sioned Tchaikovsky to write music for an adap­ta­tion of Alexan­der Dumas’ child-friend­ly sto­ry The Nut­crack­er of Nurem­berg. But The Nut­crack­er of Nurem­berg was inspired by the much dark­er E.T.A. Hoff­man tale, 1816’s “The Nut­crack­er and the Mouse King.”

The “weird, dark qual­i­ties” of the orig­i­nal were much more in keep­ing with Sendak’s self pro­claimed “obses­sive theme”: “Chil­dren sur­viv­ing child­hood.”

Sendak want­ed the bal­let to focus more intent­ly on Clara, the young girl who receives the Nut­crack­er as a Christ­mas present in Act I:

It’s about her vic­to­ry over her fear and her grow­ing feel­ings for the prince… She is over­whelmed with grow­ing up and has no knowl­edge of what this means. I think the bal­let is all about a strong emo­tion­al sense of some­thing hap­pen­ing to her, which is bewil­der­ing.


Bal­an­chine must have felt dif­fer­ent­ly. He benched Clara in Act II, let­ting the adult Sug­arplum Fairy take cen­ter­stage, to guide the chil­dren through a pas­sive tour of the Land of Sweets.

As Sendak scoffed to the Dal­las Morn­ing News:

It’s all very, very pret­ty and very, very beau­ti­ful… I always hat­ed the Sug­arplum Fairy. I always want­ed to whack her.

“Like what kids real­ly want is a can­dy king­dom. That short­changes children’s feel­ings about life,” echoes Stow­ell, who revived the Sendak com­mis­sion, fea­tur­ing the illus­tra­tor’s sets and cos­tumes every win­ter for 3 decades.

In lieu of the Sug­ar Plum Fairy, Sendak and Stow­ell intro­duced a daz­zling caged pea­cock — a fan favorite played by the same dancer who plays Clara’s moth­er in Act I.

The threats, in the form of eccen­tric uncle Drosselmeier, a fero­cious tiger, and a mas­sive rat pup­pet with an impres­sive, puls­ing tail, have a Freudi­an edge.

The paint­ed back­drops, grow­ing Christ­mas tree, and Nut­crack­er toy look as if they emerged from one of Sendak’s books. (He fol­lowed up the bal­let by illus­trat­ing a new trans­la­tion of the Hoff­man orig­i­nal.)

The Sendak-designed cos­tumes are more under­stat­ed, thought Pacif­ic North­west Bal­let cos­tumer Mark Zap­pone, who described work­ing with Sendak as “an incred­i­ble joy and plea­sure” and recalled the fun­ny ongo­ing bat­tle with the Act II Moors cos­tumes to Seat­tle Met:

Maurice’s design had the women in quite bil­lowy pants. So we ripped them out of the box, threw them on the girls upstairs in the stu­dios, and Kent start­ed rehears­ing the Moors. And one by one, the girls got their legs stuck in those pants and—boom—hit the floor, all six of them. It was like, “Oh my God, what are we going to do about that one?” They end­ed up, for years, twist­ing the legs in their cos­tumes and mak­ing a lit­tle tuck here and there. It was a rite of pas­sage; if you were going to do the Moors, don’t for­get to twist your pants around so you won’t get stuck in them.

Rent a filmed ver­sion of Mau­rice Sendak’s The Nut­crack­er on Ama­zon Prime. (Look for a Wild Thing cameo in the boat­ing scene with Clara and her Prince.)

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

The Only Draw­ing from Mau­rice Sendak’s Short-Lived Attempt to Illus­trate The Hob­bit

Mau­rice Sendak Sent Beau­ti­ful­ly Illus­trat­ed Let­ters to Fans — So Beau­ti­ful a Kid Ate One

Mau­rice Sendak Illus­trates Tol­stoy in 1963 (with a Lit­tle Help from His Edi­tor)

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­maol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo.  Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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