Every teacher I’ve had since I was about ten years old has been giving me the plagiarism speech. It’s ingrained in my brain. Never steal someone’s words without giving them credit.
In print the rules seem clear, but what if it’s something like a dance move? It seems like copyright gets a little more difficult to define.
When it was brought to everyone’s attention that Beyoncé’s amazing new video for “Countdown” didn’t just take inspiration, but exact moves from Belgian choreographer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker’s Rosas danst Rosas the opinions were mixed. A lot of people seemed unfazed, basically taking the attitude that dance isn’t something you can own. But De Keersmaeker’s work seems to fall within the copyright guidelines.
Under the law, choreographic works are understood to be “intricate dances, often ballets, devised for execution by skilled performers for the enjoyment of an audience.” Since 1983, De Keersmaeker along with other dance troupes have been performing Rosas danst Rosas for audiences all over. Beyoncé admitted she had watched the 1997 film directed by Thierry De Mey and was inspired by some of De Keersmaeker moves. She explained to The New York Times, “Clearly, the ballet Rosas danst Rosas was one of many references for my video ‘Countdown.’ It was one of the inspirations used to bring the feel and look of the song to life.” It would have been even clearer if she would have mentioned that before.
Beyoncé explained that there were many inspirations (Audrey Hepburn in Funny Girl Face, Andy Warhol, Bridgette Bardot) and you can see them in there too, but when you watch the two videos side by side, you can see that it’s not just the dance moves that are the same. The costumes, the set and even specific shots seem to be taken right from Rosas danst Rosas.
Even stranger is that in an interview with GQ, the video’s director, Adria Petty (daughter of singer Tom Petty) admits she was inspired by De Keersmaeker but says, “In the end very little of Keersmaeker's actual choreography inspired the finished result” and “it was always meant to be a straight homage.” These two statements seem a little conflicting, but whether it’s a small portion of Beyoncé’s video or not, it’s still plagiarism. It’s still someone else’s work.
In a statement to Studio Brussel, De Keersmaeker said she was neither angry nor honored by the video. “I am glad that Rosas danst Rosas can perhaps reach a mass audience which such a dance performance could never achieve, despite its popularity in the dance world since 1980s,” she said. “And, Beyoncé is not the worst copycat, she sings and dances very well, and she has a good taste!”
But De Keersmaeker also brings up a good point: Beyoncé and Petty have to know that there are consequences when you take other people’s work and pass it off as your own. Even knowing this, they still went ahead with the video. Never mentioning the original work. I'm more disappointed that the duo didn't give credit to an artist that fans of Beyoncé have probably never heard of than them actually using the work.
Now, the clip is definitely amazing with its multicolored bodysuits and baby bump shaking. But Beyoncé and her choreographer Frank Gatson should be more careful with how much inspiration they take; especially since this isn’t the first time someone has called them out about lifting moves. At the Billboard Music Awards in May, Beyoncé performed “Run The World (Girls)” and was accused of taking moves from a dance by Lorella Cuccarini. Beyoncé later admitted the choreographer inspired the performance.
But maybe the easiest thing for Beyoncé to do is cite the works that inspire particular performances. This way she gives props to the real creator and no one can accuse her of stealing. That’s what Mrs. Howe in 5th grade always told me.
Watch “Countdown” below and check out a few clips from Rosas danst Rosas.