Contemporary dance has always been just a little bit cool. It may not be rake-in-the-money cool, or even city-street-corner cool, but a good healthy detachment from popular culture, from the befuddling limelight of trend, perhaps only succeeds in making it even cooler. Like a lot of ‘high art’, to the detriment of its popularity, perhaps, this is a slow-burn, niche cool, which, like anything with cult status, may appear rather alarming and impenetrable to the uninitiated public gaze.

Radiohead, it seems, are out to change that. Or are they? It was not without surprise that I came across their latest video for Lotus Flower (from the album King of Limbs) in which lead singer Thom Yorke wriggles and writhes a la Random Dance under the direction of Wayne McGregor. Indie music meets contemporary dance. The result of these two worlds colliding is bizarre to say the least and I’m not convinced artistically justified. Yorke has an other-worldly cool that is irresistible in and of itself. His trance like jerks and instinctive sways are beautiful in their incongruity. The 30 seconds of quintessential McGregor moves at the start, however, extracted from his 11 strong company and distilled onto Yorke’s skinny, untrained body, look awkward and tacked on and it’s with horror that I realise the nature of my reaction to this; I’m embarrassed. In fact, I’m fearing the imminent outcrop of something akin to a contemporary dance rash. My eyes bulge as I read comment after scathing comment below the video: ‘please help the man’; ‘one day there will be a cure’; ‘hang in there Thom’. Oh no! This is damage indeed.

Indie music, a million pound force to be reckoned with, might well survive, or even be impervious to artistic mediocrity. For contemporary dance, however, whose credibility relies on the support and belief of a much smaller percentage of the population, and which exists, for better or worse, in a kind of cultural incubator where progression, not fashion, is the status quo, I question how useful it is to cut and paste this work, without careful artistic integration, into such a public arena. Perhaps useful is not the word. Dance is arguably still an underground art, slowly but surely hoisting itself out of centuries of disregard and socio-political bogging-down. There is a place for promotion; even for publicity stunts, yes. But beyond two successful artists sharing each other’s bandwagons (the trend of mobile phone companies sharing networks springs to mind), what’s the point?

I suppose I just fear for the two artists who are not famous. The artists who truly share common ground and could create something amazing, something cool, something popular even. The artists who might remain forever without the means that fame brings. Or the 6,728,058 YouTube hits.


Charlie Ashwell is a London-based dancer and performance maker.