Shea Coulee & Scott Studenberg
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Melania Swatting Away Trump's Hand & the 8 Other Best Moves of 2017

Melania

There is power in movement and, on a fateful day in Tel Aviv, we witnessed a swat felt around the world. As Donald Trump tried to hold his wife’s hand on the tarmac, Melania expertly swiped it away, giving a visual metaphor to a year that has come to be defined by the rise of matriarchal power. Alongside the #MeToo movement and the badass fighting of Gal Gadot in Wonder Woman, 2017 biggest moves have come from women standing up and fighting back, but that’s not all we’ve noticed this year.

This has been a year full of movement. Some days feel like we’ve taken two (or two-hundred) steps backward, while others highlight the beauty of movement. As we hope for a better 2018, we’re looking back on the movement, gestures, and choreography that shaped the year. From NFL football players taking a knee and lawyers rushing to airports to protect travelers from Trump’s travel ban to the simple pleasure of Baby Driver, these are our favorite moves of the year. 

 

Melania swats away Trump's tiny hand

Who knows what precipitated the double-diss that Melania dealt Donald in May when she appeared to swat away his hand on back-to-back days during a high-profile world tour? The marital health of the president and first lady is not the point here. What’s significant about the gesture is the sly refusal of the reluctant model-cum-FLOTUS to put on a show of solidarity for world media. On the tarmac in Tel Aviv and again descending Air Force One in Rome a day later, Mrs. Trump executed stealth evasion maneuvers to avoid grasping hands with her husband. It’s possible she was unaware of his overtures, that she didn’t mean to disrupt his attempts at projecting domestic solidarity, that she truly needed to attend to her hair. But rarely has so subtle a gesture echoed so loudly, inspired such speculation and bestowed on Mrs. Trump a silent act of defiance that loudly reverberated.

 

Lawyers flock en masse to airports to protest Trump's Travel Ban

Improvisation, or the spontaneous creation of a movement in the moment, has long been an important ingredient in dance. Though set choreography tends to be prioritized in the art form, the influential 1960s collective Judson Dance Theater helped validate the tool of improvisation, which shaped the direction of the art form since. When President Trump announced the first iteration of his travel ban less than two weeks after taking office, lawyers across the country – not generally considered a nimble profession – flocked en masse to airports to help arriving foreign nationals navigate the murky text and ambiguous legal implications of the executive order. Seated in circles, hunched over folding tables, surrounded by choruses of chanting activists, lawyers executed the first spontaneous choreography of resistance of the Trump administration, bringing visibility to the impact and implications of the ban.

 

Sweating to the Oldies Amongst Antiquities at the Met Museum

To break a sweat in a museum is a radical act, a rejection of cultural and choreographic codes that oppress our bodies in those staid, sacred places: Stand. Shift. Silently stroll. Repeat until the back aches and the mind is blank and the café and/or gift shop comes into view. This year, choreographer Monica Bill Barnes, a disruptor of the conventions of contemporary dance, challenged that premise with the delightful “The Museum Workout,” a 45-minute journey through the Metropolitan Museum of Art before opening hours, accompanied by disco, Motown hits and voiceover commentary by illustrator Maira Kalman. By popular demand, the workout, initially scheduled for a month, ran sporadically all year. The experience profoundly suggested that one might leave a museum physically invigorated, rather than depleted.

 

The emotional hip-hop of Les Twins conquers the “World of Dance”

Before she was J. Lo, Jennifer Lopez was a Fly Girl on the 1990s comedy show In Living Color. This spring, she returned to dance as head judge and executive producer of a new reality competition World of Dance, which pitted dancers of all ages and styles against each other for the tile of “Best in the World.” Though longtime dance contests like So You Think You Can Dance and Dancing with the Stars have popularized the art form on screen in the past decade, neither beats the variety that was showcased on WOD, from contemporary Irish step dancing to ballet to flamenco with dancers as young as nine and troupes as big as 20 members. But perhaps the most significant departure for the show was crowning the 28-year-old French brothers Laurent and Larry Bourgeois, known as “Les Twins,” as its champions. The duo’s brand of subtly narrative, emotionally driven, idiosyncratic hip-hop bested bigger, flashier contestants, upping the standards of televised dance with inventive artistry.

 

The NFL takes a knee

It’s been more than a year since Colin Kaepernick, the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback, knelt during the national anthem to protest police brutality and social injustice, igniting a national debate, albeit one less on those issues than on symbolic patriotism. In 2017, Kaepernick’s gesture proved enduring: it strengthened and spread to include whole teams, owners and managers, turning Sunday night face-offs between opposing franchises into face-offs between the league and President Trump (and his “team” at Fox News), which reached a head this October, more than a year after Kaepernick’s initial protest. Kaepernick’s pose – simple, dramatic, outwardly embodying reverence but seen by opponents as disrespectful – speaks to the complicated messages a genuflecting body can send, as well as the power of a pose to inspire a rhetorical showdown as violent as any tackle on the field.

 

Justin Peck’s thrilling sneaker ballet for New York City Ballet

Ballet dancers are usually required to be prim, proper and perfect. Rarely do we see them as complicated young adults immersed in pop culture and politics like their peers. But in one of this year’s most buzzed-about premieres, The Times are Racing, members of the New York City Ballet looked like the Millennials many of them are – spontaneous, uninhibited, hungry for meaning – and the art form suddenly felt like part of modern culture. Choreographed by 30-year-old Justin Peck, a company dancer and its resident choreographer since 2014, the nearly half-hour work to music by Dan Deacon is a thrilling portrait of a generation that was created during last year’s presidential campaign, completed after the election’s result, and feels very much reflective of that ordeal. Making it even more of-the-moment: Peck’s choice to swap toe shoes for sneakers and his creation of a gender-neutral principle role, both rarities in ballet. After the premiere, he also re-cast a central duet to be same-sex. It’s ballet as urgent action.

 

Gal Gadot, Robin Wright and the wonder women of the #MeToo moment

On the paradise island of Themyscira, against a crystalline blue background, Diana Prince (the beguiling Gal Gadot) yearns to be a warrior and is schooled in those ways by a fierce mentor (Robin Wright in top form) who tells her, “You’re stronger than you believe.” The all-female sparring scenes in Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman put a distinctly fresh and feminist stamp on the increasingly tired and predictable comic book tropes that went on to flex some serious box office muscle. Then came the Weinstein saga and #MeToo. In light of the ongoing bravery of women coming forward from all industries to make society confront its deeply ingrained culture of sexual misconduct, assault and misogyny, Time Magazine named The Silence Breakers as the Person of the Year. It’s clear that they too hail from Themyscira, and now we know why these wonder women spent the summer preparing for battle.

 

Ryan Heffington’s stylized moves for “Baby Driver” and Sia’s HIV awareness song

The L.A.-based choreographer Ryan Heffington became one of Hollywood’s go-to movement makers after breaking the internet in the video to Sia’s “Chandelier” with his quirky/freaky dance. This year, he again teamed up with Sia on the video for “Free Me,” a searing ballad of fear and faith to raise funds for EndHIV, an organization working towards an AIDS vaccine. The video stars Zoe Saldana as a woman coming to grips with a diagnosis who works through her emotions with Heffington’s signature blend of grace and chaos. A few weeks after that video landed, Heffington’s work was on the big screen in the caper flick Baby Driver, where his subtle choreography infused the main character with a quiet confidence and gave the film a sense of purposeful momentum by reminding us that an everyday stroll down the street is – or can be, and should be – its own little dance. (Special shout out to the film for its exhilarating car choreography, executed by stunt driver Jeremy Fry.)

 

The new “Nureyev” ballet by Russia’s legendary Bolshoi Ballet that almost wasn’t

Moscow’s Bolshoi Ballet, known for its grand productions of warhorses like Swan Lake, and Giselle, departed from tradition when it recently introduced Nureyev, a new ballet by choreographer Yuri Possokhov about the famed Russian dancer who defected to the West in 1961 and died of AIDS in 1993. This summer the opening was postponed, leading many to speculate that its gay themes had scared the government. But the show opened in December to great clamor (and mostly favorable reviews), albeit without the presence of the production’s director, Kirill Serebrennikov, who is under house arrest for what some say are trumped up corruption charges. The duet between Nureyev and his longtime lover, the dancer Erik Bruhn, was said to be more platonic than passionate, but its existence is significant for the homophobic country. Perhaps the best move of the ballet, though, came during the curtain call when several performers donned t-shirts that read “Free the director.”  

 

Tags: Popnography

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