As Thom Yorke’s moves in the video for Radiohead’s Lotus Flower proved, there is a very fine line between a dance routine that suggests surrendering to the spirit of pop at its most euphoric, and a series of physical movements that prompt passers-by to dial emergency services.
So let us pause briefly to mourn the split of Lady Gaga, not the world’s most naturally gifted dancer, from someone who helped her to look as if she was: long-term choreographer (and Haus of Gaga creative director, no less) Laurieann Gibson.
For their best work, see the Bad Romance video. The landmark pop release saw Gaga’s entire team working at full throttle, but the choreography—which builds 10 key moves into the first five seconds of the first chorus, offers up a whole different set for the chorus’s second half, then reinvents it all by the time the next chorus swings around—is a work of art in its own right.
Such big, sweeping routines are all very well but sometimes the best choreography, like the best styling, is invisible—as much about striking the right pose as it is about flinging one’s arms around. Gaga’s videos are full of examples of both, taking in the pat-a-cake handclaps and huge group set-piece climax in Telephone, the “delving through a lucky dip”, “windmill” and “now you see me now you don’t” hand movements in Poker Face, with that video’s “backstroke” movements being balanced two years later by the “breast stroke” choreography of Alejandro. Then there’s the “stamping your foot to put out some sort of small fire” moment of Born This Way, and those recurring signature themes: the “eye spy”, the monster claw, and so on.
It’s hard to believe all those routines are down to Gibson, but the ones that are will still be performed by Gaga long after the dust of their apparently messy split has settled. In the more immediate future, there could be better news ahead for Gibson. Pop dance routines slipped out of favour in recent years—a cultural atrocity that reached its nadir with the Wanted, who can’t fathom that a boyband that doesn’t do dance routines is as useful as an aeroplane that doesn’t do flying—but 2012 will bring an arena tour for Steps, a band whose 1990s routines were so elaborate that they bordered on sign language.
They may not present Gibson with a creative outlet to match Lady Gaga, but they would be grateful for the attention.—