On Saturday night, Kanye West premiered his epic 35-minute long music video for “Runaway.” When he first performed the song earlier this year at MTV’s Video Music Awards, he brought a trio of ballet dancers with him onstage, so I was super curious to see how he’d incorporate dancers into his much-anticipated mini movie.
Mixing hip hop and ballet isn’t exactly a new idea. The gimmick of juxtaposing new and old, “low” and “high,” popular and traditional—and historically black and white—art forms has already been done by a number of artists. Atlanta Ballet worked with Big Boi, Karole Armitage once had hip hop performers rapping onstage and Laurie Ann Gibson added crumping into Urban Ballet Theatre’s Nutcracker in the Lower. The contrast is an easy way for both art forms to seem suddenly edgier.
Or, as Kanye told MTV, “I was just moved by the classic dance, and I just wanted to crash it against the pop music.” Unfortunately he did just that, without taking the time to understand what makes classic dance good.
I am a huge fan of Kanye’s, largely because of the ways he collaborates with other artists in his music. But while his interest in ballet is flattering, and the film is great exposure for our usually alienated world, it’s too bad we couldn’t have been represented better. I could be wrong, but Yemi Akinyemi’s choreography seems to just be a structured improvisation—done by advanced ballet students who don’t really have any improv experience. What we get is an odd mix of stiff classroom echappé-passe combinations on one dancer and angsty flailing modern movement on another. The concept, and the way it’s filmed are intriguing, but from a ballet perspective, it seems like such a missed opportunity to create something that could have been really great.