Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Analyzing Cassidy Noblett's "Just Dance" Performance

Cassidy plays the role of New York City club kid. July 2010
Being that I'm a huge fan of Cassidy and his dancing, I decided to analyze Cassidy's performances in a different way by asking myself six questions that dancer-choreographer Daniel Nagrin explained in his books about dancing. I found the questions extremely helpful. The questions help organize and clarify all the thoughts flowing through my head. The performance I applied Nagrin's Six Questions to was Cassidy's performance of "Just Dance" with Gaga on her Monster Ball tour last year.

The Six Questions go as follows:
1. Who or What?
2. is Doing What?
Action Analysis:
a. the Spine
b. the Beats
c. the Subtext
3. To Whom or What?
4. Where or When?
5. To What end?
6. The Obstacle?

1. Who or What? Gaga and the dancers are New York City club kids. Cassidy looks like a glam-punk with his hair curved into an Elvis pompadour, and wearing a hot pink outfit consisting of a pink vest adorned with a graffitti design and black shorts. A piece of pink fishnet adorned one of his thighs where his asymmetrical shorts exposed some good leg. "Just Dance" is a song Gaga wrote while partying in New York City one night before flying to Los Angeles to write and record the song with RedOne the next morning so the performance reflects her past.

2. is Doing What? He is partying in Manhattan, meaning dancing and drinking and spending precious time with friends.

a. The Spine: The exact action that drives this dance exists only in Cassidy's mind, so I can only guess, but I'd say a need for peace of mind and embracing the moment is the spine of the performance, at least, what he shows visibly. His trademark megawatt smile expresses joy. Of course we have to realize that Cassidy is interpreting LaurieAnn Gibson and Lady Gaga's vision, but he clearly puts his stamp on the choreography.

b. The Beats

Cassidy starts off the performance emerging from the shadows after Gaga plays the keyboard that's inserted inside the hood of her Rolls Royce where the engine should be. Yes, that's right, the keyboard is the engine that brings the city to life and gets Gaga where she needs to go, even though her car broke down. All she needs is music. She starts the performance alone and still and then she suddenly gets an idea to play the keyboard inside the hood of her car. Once she plays the opening chords of "Just Dance," her memories of partying with her friends in New York City come to life. Who knows if what comes to life around her is just a mirage, but somehow Gaga has transformed her lonely, dejected space into a jubliant celebration.

In this sense, Cassidy enters the stage as possibly a figment of Gaga's imagination. He makes use of the poles and stairwells around him running up the stairs in time with the music's percussion. He plays around with the dancers around him like cats in an alley. It's not long before Gaga and the dancers migrate to the upstage dancing the same steps in unison. By the time the chorus hits, Cassidy chokes himself with his hand around his throat and tilts his head back, giving a visual to RedOne's trademark siren that goes off like an alarm. The choking seems to simulate death. Then he launches into a series of vogue poses lifted right from Madonna's 1990 "Vogue" performances.

The performance doesn't stay the same and it's more dramatic than abstract. There's a destination to the performance and that's to get to the party, but most of the performance is spent traveling around the stage's mock city scenery (Neon lights flashing services like "dentist" "Breast Implants" definitely representing the seedier side of a city setting). The destination is not purely literal, but figurative in the sense that Cassidy and company are trying to reach a mental state of happiness.

For the most part, the dancers perform the same choreography that LaurieAnn Gibson taught them, but Cassidy sprinkles some of his own personal dance vocabulary. He's classically trained in ballet, so he reflects that in some of his movements. He arranges his legs in a semi attitude position when he performs a turn on one leg. At the end of the performance, Cassidy appropriates a move from Vanilla Ice's "Ice, Ice Baby" video at the end of the dance; kicking out one leg forward and then kicking it back and turning your whole body after the last kick.

c. The Subtext
One of Cassidy's biggest strengths is his exuberant persona, but in all great art is conflict and contradiction and although Cassidy is often seen smiling, laughing and energetic, I wonder if there's a dark side in his personality. His physicality and muscular frame belie his boyish charm and baby face. His moments of sexual awareness also belie his innocent persona. The only hint of subtext is when Cassidy's innocence is contradicted by his cheeky passes at Gaga, stroking her exposed thigh quickly as she passes him.

3. To Whom or What?

The shortest distance to the audience is through the other actor! Cassidy interacts with his fellow dancers in the context of their roles as New York City club kids (note that Cassidy is a southerner from North Carolina). The dancers are supposed to be friends on stage (although they probably are in real life) and Cassidy creates the feeling of camaraderie by nudging fellow dancer and laughing with them. By doing this, the audience gets the sense that Cassidy is friendly and is having the time of his life. Many people go to the theatre as an escape from a reality, or as a place where they can watch people act out their fantasies. Cassidy does this impeccably, making the audience want to be his best friend.

4. Where or When?

The space is New York City and the city streets, so hard concrete comes to mind and flashing lights. Also, the noise of people and automobiles. Cassidy uses the space well, hanging from poles and fire escapes displaying his playful persona. The time of the performance is not specific. It could easily be the 1980s or the far future. Time is not a factor in this performance.

5. To what end?
Cassidy performs in his own unique style because he can get down to the hottest hip-hop and R&B songs, but he sprinkles in some ballet into the mix adding some classic elegance.

6. The Obstacle?
The presence of alcohol is an obstacle to Cassidy's performance. Although alcohol loosens a person up, it also can endanger his life and erase or corrupt the celebratory experience. The dangers of the city also threaten Cassidy's adventures as a club kid. People dressed so flamboyantly and dancing in the street could bother the wrong person.