Though the Grammys primarily celebrate singing, the ceremony features plenty of dancing. This year, that was particularly true.
Here are three of the top dance moments from the night:
1) "Chandelier," Sia
Sia's video for "Chandalier" features Maddie Ziegler, a beautiful young dancer made famous by the reality show Dance Moms. For Sia's Grammy performance, though, Ziegler was joined by — wait for it — Kristen Wiig. Yes, that Kristen Wiig. The one of Saturday Night Live and Bridesmaids fame.
As Sia sang, Wiig performed the familiar contemporary choreography by Ryan Heffington. Most choreography that makes it onto the Grammys is in a hip-hop style. It was nice to see the show take a chance with an underappreciated form.
Much of the movement of Chandelier is based on sharp, slicing gestures intended to embody the fleeting and fragmented inner states of the dancer. The key for this piece, as with all contemporary dance, is the ability to physically communicate emotion. Wiig knocks that aspect out of the park, which goes to show the level of bodily awareness the best comedians possess. By the time Ziegler joins her, Chandelier is exploding with intensity.
Some will ask "what the dance means," and that isn't a totally inappropriate question. However, dance, unlike poetry or other visual art, doesn't have a one-to-one correspondence to the emotions or story it intends to convey. There certainly is a narrative to the above performance — and it's certainly very different from the narrative of the original video, as adding another dancer to the movement changes the entire timbre of the piece — but the movement is more image than symbol. It invites you to feel something, but doesn't set hard parameters around the experience.
2) "Living for Love," Madonna
No, this wasn't the best Madonna performance ever. No, it wasn't the best performance this year. And yes, the choreography could have focused more on the singer, as it has in the past. But from a production standpoint, this is a great moment.
Technically, this dance was a feat for the dancers to pull off. They were all in face masks and horns, which affected their vision, and their shoes had a heel on them, which added an extra challenge to the already difficult tumbling/running/leaping. They also peopled the stage beautifully, executing their blocking with precision. The moment where they surround Madonna on the circular platform illustrates this nicely.
The fiery intentionality of the athletic movement gave the piece a primitive, tribal feel, which was heightened by the dancers' creature-like costumes. And while most of the movement was just that — movement rather than choreography proper — the too-brief dance break in which Madonna participated at the end of the song was exciting for those of us who remember her "Vogue" days.
3) "By the Grace of God," Katy Perry
This was, hands down, the most powerful moment of the evening. Sure, the heartfelt message from President Obama on domestic violence helped set the tone, as did the moving words of activist Brooke Axtell. "If you're in a relationship with someone who does not honor and respect you, I want you to know you are worthy of love," said Axtell. "Please reach out for help; your voice will save you."
It was this phrase that several dancers embodied during Perry's performance. While Perry sang, "By the grace of God, I picked myself back up," dancers literally experimented with the rise and fall of their own bodies. The lines of the movement were stunning, each stretch of the arm, and arabesque of the leg contributing to the gorgeous stage pictures.
That the dancers were silhouettes added to the pain of the piece: many victims of domestic violence are faceless, and, like our own shadows, often fall outside of our gaze. But even as shadows, the dance reminds us, victims of abuse are not left without hope: they are not alone.
As the elegant shapes of individual women swelled and pulsed and morphed into one body, Perry sang, "I thank my sister for keeping my head above the water." The message couldn't have been clearer: we are all part of an interconnected web of humanity. Domestic violence affects all of us.
The ones that got away
This was a great Grammys for dance, but there were still some moments when the awards could have offered up some great numbers ... and just didn't.
- Usher tops the list. His performance with Stevie Wonder was great, but c'mon, Usher! We know you're a great dancer. We saw you that one time in the rain. And you went toe to toe with Michael Jackson. Don't leave us hanging!
- Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett's duet on "Cheek to Cheek" was entertaining, but they're no Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. And they didn't do the Fred and Ginger dance. (But you could tell she really wanted to.)