Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker vs. Beyonce

Nov 1, 2011

We tweeted about this last week, but in case you missed it there has been an interesting intersection of commercial pop culture and avant garde contemporary dance that is rippling across the internet. It appears that pop music sensation Beyonce blatantly appropriated/stole/copied/paid homage to the work of Belgian experimental choreographer Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker. In a side-by-side comparison of Beyonce's "Countdown" video, it's pretty clear that de Keersmaeker's work was heavily sourced.

Not convinced? See for yourself in these videos:

de Keersmaeker responded directly to Beyonce's video with the following statement on her website:
People asked me if I’m angry or honored. Neither. On the one hand, I am glad that Rosas danst Rosas can perhaps reach a mass audience which such a dance performance could never achieve, despite its popurality in the dance world since 1980s. And, Beyoncé is not the worst copycat, she sings and dances very well, and she has a good taste! On the other hand, there are protocols and consequences to such actions, and I can’t imagine she and her team are not aware of it.

To conclude, this event didn’t make me angry, on the contrary, it made me think a few things. Like, why does it take popular culture thirty years to recognize an experimental work of dance? A few months ago, I saw on Youtube a clip where schoolgirls in Flanders are dancing Rosas danst Rosas to the music of Like a Virgin by Madonna. And that was touching to see. But with global pop culture it is different, does this mean that thirty years is the time that it takes to recycle non-mainstream experimental performance? And, what does it say about the work of Rosas danst Rosas? In the 1980s, this was seen as a statement of girl power, based on assuming a feminine stance on sexual expression. I was often asked then if it was feminist. Now that I see Beyoncé dancing it, I find it pleasant but I don’t see any edge to it. It’s seductive in an entertaining consumerist way.

Culturebot's Andy Horwitz has done a fine job of opening up the discussion about the intellectual property rights issues of this "scandal" and the challenges of valuing/controlling ephemeral works of live performance. From their blog:
There are several things at play here–first off there’s the difficult nature of copyrighting and protecting the work of time-based, body-based artists from appropriation. Music and text can be turned into recognizable commodities and object-based forms, they are easier to quantify and copyright. Time-based and body-based performances are, by their nature, ephemeral. But in this age of increased documentation through video, dance notation, etc. it should be easier to copyright performances, their design, execution and aesthetic sensibilities. As far as I know there are very few people working on issues of copyright protection and “fair use” when it comes to dance and performance. But this should be a growing field of exploration and concern. Artists – especially experimental artists – tend to position themselves in the context of larger philosophical, aesthetic and sociological conversations. In some ways performance is a time-based “site” or nexus for the intersection and juxtaposition of different ideas. It is an experiential mode of philosophical investigation, complete with dramaturgy, research and collateral conversations. To suggest that the work of choreographers and other time-based performance artists is not intellectual property as distinct as a book, article, recording or painting is simply wrong.

Personally I'd like to see a Nicki Minaj and Merce Cunningham remix. What other pop/experimental matches would you like to see?

Tags: Beyonce, Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker, dance, pop music, intellectual property, copyright, appropriation

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