Yanni will always have the Acropolis, the Taj Mahal and Beijing’s Forbidden City. But when it comes to performing in the shadow of major historic landmarks, Brooklyn’s own David Fishel has the New Age pianist beat by a long shot. In the past two years, Fishel has danced at more than 50 sites across Europe and the United States, with landmarks such as the Eiffel Tower, the Colosseum, the Golden Gate Bridge and Times Square providing the backdrop to his performances. He films all of his dances and posts them on a site called Davey Dance Blog.
Fishel is not a trained dancer. He is, however, a trained filmmaker and director of post-production at CollegeHumor.com. He was traveling in Europe in 2007 when he got the idea to create a funny video postcard for friends back home. With his iPod providing the tunes and a Canon PowerShot to record the action, Fishel performed an improvised dance to The Beatles’ “Don’t Let Me Down” in front of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. An internet dance star was born.
His subsequent videos have followed a similar format: He’s danced to Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal” in front of the Anne Frank House and Sir Mix-A-Lot’s “Baby Got Back” in front of the Notre Dame Cathedral (baby got hunchback). He usually performs solo but occasionally enlists backup dancers, as in this piece performed on the subway to The Sunshine Underground’s “Put You in Your Place.”
It’s pretty funny stuff – and as a performer Fishel is both endearingly goofy and rhythmically gifted (so what if the moves are a bit repetitive?). Sure, it’s gimmicky, but, unlike the “Evolution of Dance” guy, Fishel is no one-hit wonder. In a recent departure from his dance blog, Fishel took part in a contest sponsored by the Dance Films Association in which participants had 48 hours to create a short film inspired by something in the news. Fishel’s film, And That’s the Way It Is, based on the New York Post’s announcement of Walter Cronkite’s death, took first place.
Below, Fishel talks about the joys of making of fool of oneself in public and ponders the very nature of dance itself.
Flavorpill: Do you choreograph any of your moves ahead of time?
David Fishel: Usually I don’t think about the moves. That’s probably why a lot of the moves end up looking very similar. They’re the go-to moves. But occasionally when I have other people dancing with me… I may tell them something like, “At this moment of the song, we’ll have an entrance or start walking away.” It’s usually just an entrance or exit kind of thing. For the dance we did in Central Park the choreography was essentially like, “Go crazy.” Or “freeze.” Recently I was in Verona with some friends and we thought it would be fun at the end of the song to mime the two different suicides that Romeo and Juliet do. Outside of that there’s usually not much in terms of choreography or planned movement.
FP: Where do you find your backup dancers?
DF: They’re usually friends. A lot of my co-workers have been in several of them. Mostly it’s just friends or acquaintances, or friends of friends. For the Mariah Carey one at Rockefeller Center, some coworkers of a few friends also came. And that’s always fun – the first time you’re meeting people you’re making a fool of yourself in public with them.
FP: How do you choose the songs you dance to?
DF: It usually has to do with the location or something about that time. That’s sort of a rule to the project, but sometimes I break it. With the Leaning Tower of Pisa, it was “Don’t Let me Down.” At the Berlin Wall I did the Cold War Kids’ “We Used to Vacation.” We did David Bowie’s “Rock ’n’ Roll Suicide” at Verona. Then some of them are a little bit of a stretch. My favorites are when it’s not obvious, like when the connection is from A to D and they have to fill in B and C themselves. At Notre Dame, I danced to “Baby Got Back.” The Hunchback of Notre Dame gets you there.
FP: Are you planning to keep Davey Dance Blog going?
DF: Yeah. But for the most part I try not to pressure myself into doing them within a certain amount of time. It’s just kind of like, if I feel like it’s about time I started dancing in public. I’ve done a lot with large groups of people, but I definitely don’t want that to be what the project is. I try to [keep it to the original idea,] which is this guy who has no formal training in dance or movement and he’s just kind of acting like an idiot. I have lots of friends who are dancers or choreographers. I’ve worked for dance companies before and I’ve picked up a few ideas. But I haven’t taken any classes, mostly out of fear.
FP: Do you think you might try a dance class at some point?
DF: My friend is a choreographer, and she started making film and video in the past year She talks about… the fact that she’s not educated in cinema makes it a little more freeing. And that’s how I feel about the dance blog. I think one thing that’s kept me from taking dance classes is I that don’t want this project to be a formal work. It’s nice that it’s an effortless piece. I think that if I knew more about what is good or bad dance, all of a sudden there would be all this pressure to hold myself up to these greats.
FP: Tell me about the Dance Films Association contest.
DF: The rule was to find a news headline and base a dance film on that, and you had 48 hours to do it. I was going do it… but then it came to that Friday and I was like, I have absolutely no inspiration. So I was getting a drink with my friend James… and he was like, “Come on, let’s go back to your place and figure something out.” And we went back and turned on my computer, and he suggested going to the New York Post. And there it was, “Cronkite Dead at 92!” And it seemed… so wonderfully layered already, like trust in journalism is dead.
FP: Do you think you might continue to experiment with dance films?
DF: I think I would. I’m a cinephile at heart, and film requires movement, and dance is movement, so they’re very closely related, I feel. I could see myself exploring different avenues and experimenting with different styles of communicating through motion pictures. Personally, I have a pretty broad definition of what dance is. Like, for And That’s the Way It Is, I just picked out three basic movements based on videos I saw of Cronkite: the wiping of the lip, taking off the glasses, and tapping the papers. Those were the three things I kept coming back to, so there was some intention there, but was I dancing? No. But is it choreographed movement? Possibly. It walks the line a bit but I guess I like that about it. It’s like, what is art? What is dance? I’m getting really profound on you here.