I’m no expert when it comes to dance, be it watching or taking part. And yet for me, sometimes there’s nothing better than watching a straight-up dance video.
Sure, music videos can be giant affairs, full of razor-sharp and rapid-fire edits, insane colors and expensive set design, and artful cinematic scope. It’s practically expected in pop and R&B and hip hop videos to incorporate dancers into music videos — all moving in ambitiously coordinated and intricately choreographed unison. It’s absolutely impressive to watch, and yet, I also enjoy when artists pare back and deliver a video with something different and simple.
Which, strangely enough, brings me to Thom Yorke, who, as you may or may not recall, was the focal point of Radiohead’s “Lotus Flower,” a song from the dubstep-infused album The King Of Limbs. Filmed in highly-contrasted black and white, Yorke’s often-silhouetted figure gyrates in odd, GIF-friendly stuttering motions that fit perfectly with the skittering, moody song.
Now, Yorke is back on the dancefloor, in a brand new music video for “Ingenue, the latest single from his star-studded side project Atoms For Peace that features longtime Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich, Flea, Joey Waronker and Mauro Refosco. The electronic dance music-meets-Fela Futi grooves on Atoms For Peace’s new album, AMOK, is tonally comparable to the direction Yorke and Godrich went on The King of Limbs with songs built around deep bass and serrated beats, layers of synths and haunting voices. It’s also a sound that seems ripe for arty interpretive dance, as he does in the video for “Ingenue.”
Directed and choreographed by the same team as “Lotus Flower”, Garth Jennings and Wayne McGregor, “Ingenue” is set on a stark theater stage against a white backdrop with Yorke’s nearly-slowmo dancing. And it feels equally conceptual and improvised, as if to match his onstage flailing and off-kilter movements. This time around though, Yorke has a partner, contemporary dancer Fukiko Takase, who is able to seamlessly imitate Yorke — not only by pulling her hair back into a ponytail and dressing in the same crisp tan suit as Yorke, but in mimicking his strange and memorably wild gesticulations.
Just as striking is the way the two interact, her much more beautifully fluid, like a modernist ballet dancer floating in the wind; him perhaps a bit more jerky and oddball, but no less mannered when holding a pose. It’s also kinda hilarious.
The video for “Ingenue” actually reminded me of other videos with similarly stripped-down moves: Michael Jackson’s “Rock With You” — which despite the lights, neon lasers and hazy fades, is really just MJ dancing by himself. Then there’s Beyonce’s “Single Ladies,” Slow Club’s “Two Cousins,” and even Blonde Redhead’s “Top Ranking,” in which Miranda July strikes a pose a second throughout the song. All these videos share a sense of restraint in staging and editing, allowing the songs to breathe by letting the movement carry your attention. (Also, they’re all instantly joy-making.)
Over the years, Thom Yorke and Radiohead have found countless ways to present their mysterious image, be it in concert or with dark, experimental music videos. In a way, it’s actually refreshing to see Yorke a little bit more exposed with a fairly inspired video that relies more on simplicity of performance, and ultimately matches the mood and feel of the the song.