Apparently so. The best dance performance at the Grammys was not at the Grammys. It was a crackling commercial in the broadcast’s first hour for the Microsoft Surface Pro, in which the nimble tablet was featured in a conference-room showdown of beatboxers and breakdancing. My drooping eyelids — robbed of their will by the awards show, already a snoozer so early in its run — popped open for this clever whirl of rubber legs and headspins.
The TV ad was far more provocative and polished than the weird crash of ballet and Taylor Swift in the Grammys’ opening number. Swift’s trip down the rabbit hole in an “Alice in Wonderland” tableau had her singing “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” while ballet dancers, stilt walkers, clowns and a giant bunny crowded the stage. The Lewis Carroll tale is trending in the ballet world — in Washington we’ve had two productions of it in less than a year — so could this be the reason there were ballerinas in Swift’s montage? Pop music panting after the ballet world is kind of exciting … I guess. Tutus are always a welcome sight, but there was entirely too much going on here. Swift’s Mad Hatter looked like the star of an awkward game of dress-up; navigating the stage stiffly in her white go-go boots, she could have used some lessons in diva-strutting.
There were divas on hand, but Beyonce and Jennifer Lopez, who could have given the show a welcome jolt of kinetic excitement, were only brought on to introduce nominees. J-Lo flashed a well-muscled leg just to tease us. In the only other vaguely choreographed set — more bouncy than dancey — Justin Timberlake picked up on the 1960s vibe in Swift’s hallucinogenic circus, though he took it in a buttoned-up, Organization-Man direction for “Suit & Tie” and “Pusher Love Girl.” He wore a tight black suit, bow tie and white socks, a tribute to Michael Jackson, who’d worn his in tribute to Fred Astaire.
Rihanna was the last best hope for any kind of dance display, but singing “Stay,” her plea of melancholy neediness, she seemed to be in emotional lockdown, her eyes vacant as she made clawing gestures around the mic. And chewed a fingernail. If the news that she’d gotten back together with Chris Brown, who’d assaulted her on the eve of the 2009 Grammys, wasn’t bad enough, here was a portrait of misery that felt especially creepy given the context.
What a contrast with the theme that opened the show, of gleeful good riddance to bad rubbish.
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