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NPR Arts & Life

The Music That Makes Choreographers Move

ERIC WESTERVELT, HOST:

Movement often starts with music. Choreographers hear a song. It delivers a feeling, a story. And it's their job to translate that into dance. As we leave behind 2014, we talked with three choreographers about the music that made them move, the songs from their playlists that made them get up and dance. This is award-winning choreographer Peggy Hickey. She chose Mark Ronson's "Uptown Funk," featuring Bruno Mars.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "UPTOWN FUNK")

MARK RONSON: (Singing) Doh. Doh doh doh, doh doh doh.

PEGGY HICKEY: It just really makes me happy. That's the most important thing. Even listening to it now, I'm bouncing.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "UPTOWN FUNK")

MARK RONSON AND BRUNO MARS: (Singing) Doh. Doh doh doh, doh doh doh. This hit, that ice-cold, Michelle Pfeiffer, that white gold. This one's for them hood girls, them good girls, straight masterpieces.

HICKEY: Music, since I was a little girl, always tells me what it is. For instance, when music swirls, it's some sort of turn. When music comes to a sharp, crisp stop...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "UPTOWN FUNK")

MARK RONSON AND BRUNO MARS: (Singing) Don't believe me? Just watch.

HICKEY: It's really easy for me to sort of see, OK, this is a fall, this is an explosive run. The best choreography is the kind of choreography that helps you hear the music better.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "UPTOWN FUNK")

MARK RONSON AND BRUNO MARS: (Singing) Don't believe me? Just watch. Don't believe me? Just watch. Hey, hey, hey, oh.

HICKEY: I work with a lot of college kids, and this is just the sort of song that they will love. I'm always on the hunt for something that inspires me and inspires the kids. And this is a perfect, fun - just the song I know they'll be singing along with while we stretch.

MARK MORRIS: I'm Mark Morris and I'm a choreographer. Music is a gigantic world of infinite variety and dancing is considerably smaller. Music is the thing that drives me. I make up dances because of music.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE RITE OF SPRING")

THE BAD PLUS: (Playing piano).

MORRIS: Listening to a version of Stravinsky's "Rite Of Spring" by the incredibly fabulous, progressive, sort of jazz band, The Bad Plus.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE RITE OF SPRING")

THE BAD PLUS: (Playing piano).

MORRIS: I personally have had enough of "The Rite Of Spring" and had really no interest in choreographing it. But it was in the form of this new reading of the piece. It was thrilling. It re-approached the rhythms in a way that can't be done by a big orchestra.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE RITE OF SPRING")

THE BAD PLUS: (Playing piano).

MORRIS: I as a choreographer don't listen to a piece of music and see a gorgeous, completed performance of a dance in my head. It's the figuring out of the music that is interesting to me in applying a dance to it.

JAMAICA CRAFT: I'm Jamaica Craft and I am a choreographer and artistic director. My pick is Taylor Swift's "Shake It Off."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SHAKE IT OFF")

TAYLOR SWIFT: (Singing) I stay out too late. Got nothing in my brain. That's what people say.

CRAFT: If I did the dance that I'd just want to shake it off with, I want to do, like, crazy dancing, like, a freedom-style dancing of just letting it go.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SHAKE IT OFF")

SWIFT: (Singing) But I can't make them stay. At least, that's what people say.

CRAFT: You know, just like running around the house and just letting it play while you're drinking coffee and dancing around? That's it - get in your car, play it one more time before you enter the room with other people (laughter).

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SHAKE IT OFF")

SWIFT: (Singing) In my mind saying, it's going to be all right. 'Cause the players gonna play, play, play...

CRAFT: People can sometimes dance and it looks good, but if they're not attaching feeling to it, it doesn't touch me. Because if you feel good, you'll stay with people forever because people never forget a feeling.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SHAKE IT OFF")

SWIFT: (Singing) Shake it off, shake it off. You've got to shake it off, shake it off.

WESTERVELT: Choreographers Jamaica Craft, Mark Morris and Peggy Hickey, sharing their favorite dance grooves of 2014. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.