Elastic Heart: Interpretive Dance vs. Mass Media

It has been called “Creepy” by Elle Magazine, caused a twitter uproar, and ended up with the The Mirror asking “has Sia gone too far?” the video for Elastic Heart, Grammy Award winner Sia’s latest release, is apparently controversial. But watching the five minute long interpretive dance performance piece it is difficult to understand the outrage.

Beautiful, odd and tear-jerkingly tender, seeing dance prodigy Maddie Ziegler and actor come performance artist Shia LaBoeuf in genre defying choreography by dance-luminary Ryan Heffington, is nothing but a positive experience. Both pushed into celebrity pre-adolescence, LaBoeuf, once a Disney child-star, and Ziegler, whose recent fame came from US reality TV series Dance Moms, there is a lot bonding these two performers together. But perhaps the biggest connection between the two is their unflinching dedication to Sia’s video and, some may say, surprising talent.

LaBoeuf is not the most natural of dancers, but his emotional performance and physical strength are the perfect contrast to Ziegler’s imp like movements. In a video of binary opposites, playing on masculine and feminine, young and old, innocence and experience, there is an antagonism between the two protagonists deliberately fought out. And yet the whole piece is centred on the touching moments of connection between the pair.

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This emotionalism is not surprising when you consider LaBoeuf’s recent works. Looking like a man on the edge of a nervous breakdown he’s performance piece #iamsorry, the illegitimate child of Marina Abramović’s The Artist is Present, 2010, saw LaBoeuf attempt to build true interactions with the visitors to his LA show. Sitting quiet and unmoving he asked the visitor to interact with him – some visitors even claimed LaBoeuf cried during their time together. Maybe not everyone’s favourite actor, Elastic Heart and #iamsorry shows a man in touch with his feelings and able to convey his inner-self in striking moments of empathy and sentiment.

Really the, so called, ‘video paedophile controversy’ (The Mirror) surrounding this video is all the more confusing when you consider LaBoeuf’s claim he was raped during his performance piece. His interview with Dazed and Confused magazine showed how sensitive and aware he was with issues surrounding the personal impact of sexual violence: putting the real LaBoeuf at odds with the man many on Twitter suggest is acting as a ‘predator’.

The video itself depicts LaBoeuf and Ziegler in flesh tone body suits – a key point in the argument for many commentators. However, looking at twelve year old Ziegler’s outfit it covers her better than many children’s swim-suits available and seeing her dressed in this way is merely an extension of Sia’s award winning track Chandelier. During the video for Chandelier Ziegler (in the exact same costume) danced exquisitely alone, making it important to note that this video did not inspire shouts of “peado” from the twittersphere. It seems only the inclusion of a 28 year old male actor has caused the masses to erupt in outrage.

The bond between the two performers in Elastic Heart, however, reads as a father/daughter relationship. Ziegler, a young, sometimes almost feral, child sucks her thumb and teases the older LaBoeuf, who pulls faces and carries her on her shoulders, not unlike the Frontispiece for William Blake’s Songs of Innocence. There is no sexual connection here and unfortunately for Sia, Ziegler, Heffington and LaBoeuf, this video would undoubtedly not have received such a negative reaction if LaBoeuf was not currently the mass media’s favourite whipping boy. Social media mocks his attempts at art, the press revel in his moments of “insanity”: a 28 year old, clearly intelligent man, dragged down by his move from the camp Transformers to pretentious Necrophiliac, attempting to make a piece of performance art with a group of awe-inspiringly talented individuals.

The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA, describes performance art as an artwork where ‘the artist’s medium is the body, and the live actions he or she performs are the work of art’. Without doubt Electric Heart fits this criteria. There is no explicit story, the movements are broad and interpretive and yet the aura from this video can rival many pieces of contemporary art. Sia claims her ‘intention was to create some emotional content’ and she succeeded. This artwork has an emotional purity that has merely been skewed by people’s need to dislike one man.


Commissioned by dfynorms.com


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