Hillary Clinton's Debate Shimmy of Confidence
That the dubious quality of "authenticity" became a major liability for Hillary Clinton is a case study in the gendered metrics we have set for our politicians. She was often criticized for being stiff on the stump, but found a moment of clearly unrehearsed, unfiltered physical freedom during the first presidential debate. After Donald Trump stated that he had the temperament to be commander-in-chief, Clinton took a breath, closed her eyes, smiled, and shimmied her shoulders. It was an unexpected, almost playful and giddy gesture of confidence, as if her entire body were revving up for a battle she was not only prepared to fight but, at least in that moment, seemed even to relish. In retrospect, we can appreciate it as a "moment of levity" (to quote her in those marathon Benghazi hearings) in a toxic and ultimately fatal brawl.
A Lesson from Beyonce in Gracefully Avoiding Disaster
Remember when the infallible Beyonce ate it in front of a billion people at this year's Super Bowl half-time show? Well, no, because she didn't. But she came close. While performing her powerful, newly released single "Formation," and in the process of stealing the show from Coldplay, Queen Bey dropped to a squat, appeared to lose her balance, sprung back (in heels, mind you) and recovered without a twitch of concern on that fierce face. It was the skilled physical recalibration of a woman in total control. But let's zoom out: The real coup of the moment was injecting a strong dose of politically charged black feminism into the sacred temple of male all-Americanism. That, too, is a type of control.
A Nutcracker for the Year of Immigration and Income Inequality
Ballet tends not to concern itself with the poor. The art form born in royal courts remains quite at home there, telling the tales of princes, kings and nobles (and the swans they love). So it was refreshing to learn that choreographer Christopher Wheeldon, fresh off a Tony-win for An American in Paris, was interested in how the other 99 percent lived. "I was always slightly bothered by the fact that Nutcracker is about a child who has everything, then falls asleep and has more," Wheeldon toldThe New York Times. In his new version of the holiday classic for Chicago's Joffrey Ballet, the action is set at the 1893 Chicago's World Fair and its heroine is a poor Polish immigrant raised by a single mother. If we must have another Nutcracker, this is the one we should have.
Olympic Swimmer Wags a Finger at Russia
Even before the extent of Russian tampering in the presidential election became clear, the feisty American swimmer Lilly King offered a clear signal that cheating would not be tolerated. When her Russian rival Yulia Efimova held up a finger after a qualifying heat, the sign for #1, King, who would face her in the 100-meter breaststroke, wagged one back and set the internet ablaze. Efimova had just completed an 18-month suspension for doping, and had again failed a drug test for the banned substance meldonium earlier in the year. The 19-year-old King went on to best Efimova for the gold, backing up her cheeky warning gesture with substantive action. In light of Putin's meddling, America would do well to borrow from that playbook.
La La Land's Traffic Jam Fantasia
Damien Chazelle's ode to classic movie musicals, La La Land, is shot as if through a vintage Technicolor filter. But it begins with a distinctly modern, unromantic scene: An L.A. traffic jam. Initially backlit to dull the colors, the opening number, "Another Day in the Sun," brightens up as commuters escape the confines of their cars and find momentary communal joy dancing on the overpass connecting the 110 and 105 freeways. Choreographer Mandy Moore, a regular contributor to So You Think You Can Dance and Dancing with the Stars, spent six months working with Chazelle to organize 30 dancers, 100 extras and 60 vehicles, reminding us of the too-rarely-seen cinematic power of dance to turn the mundane into the magical.
Arthur's Fist Is the Embodiment of Our Quiet Rage
The presidential campaign gave us daily reasons to gape in horror and disbelief, never mind all the shit that happened in our private lives. Arthur, the beloved cartoon aardvark and star of his own public TV show for 20 years, provided a viral meme that captured the boiling rage of witnessing a national political meltdown, and one that also worked for the smaller, personal tragedies (like missing a potential hook-up or not having enough data space on your phone). The gesture, pulled from an episode in which Arthur punches his sister, may continue to be a potent symbol in the four years ahead: The clenched fist can represent determination, frustration, aggression, restraint, helplessness. We're sure to be feeling all of the above.
Contemporary Dance Captures Dystopian Corporate Reality
Contemporary dance doesn't always do a great job of capturing our dark, messy world. (It either gets lost in beautiful abstraction, or tied up in theoretical knots.) But when the renowned Nederlands Dans Theater came to America this fall, it brought "The Statement," a new work by the dynamite Canadian choreographer Crystal Pite that deftly evoked the ominous insecurity of our times. The piece, set around a long boardroom table under flickering fluorescent lights, features four corporate types in slacks and button-downs who flinch, freak-out and cower to recorded Kafka-esque text by Jonathon Young. It's a disconcerting peek into a constantly shifting power-play where everyone is ally and enemy; accuser and accused. It's a dystopian dance for today's global anxiety.
The Mannequin Challenge Slyly Gave Us What We Need Most: Stillness
It seems every year now we can expect a new group video trend: Lip synching to "Call Me Maybe" (2012), Harlem Shake (2013), Ice Bucket Challenge (2014), the Nae Nae (2015), among others. This year introduced us to the Mannequin Challenge in which participants remain frozen (in a classroom, locker-room, office, etc.) as a camera moves in, around and between them, a la The Matrix, creating photo-like tableaus with cinematic panning and dimensionality. The effect is cool enough but the challenge's unintended profundity is the celebration of stillness and the use of long, patient, uninterrupted shots when we have become so accustomed to speed, virtuosity, and quick cuts. In the context of modern life, the inactivity of the Mannequin Challenge feels almost radical--and necessary. Here's to a slower 2017.