Dive into this hyper-sexualised dance party

Cunnilingus, male breast feeding and pulsating beats come together in this film that challenges gender norms and class structures through dance

In a dim green-lit room, six writhing, gyrating bodies move to the escalating rhythms of Gwilym Gold and Darkstar’s score for “Some Greater Class”. The firm hands of a man grip the hips of a woman, who, head tilted back and mouth ajar, appears to be on the receiving end of cunnilingus, though the camera doesn’t pan down far enough for us to see. Two muscular men embrace on the floor, one apparently breastfeeding the other, while another male couple stand, swaying in each other’s arms. This is the sexually-fuelled dance of a “live pop video” by the London-based choreographer Holly Blakey, intent on thrashing social expectations of class, gender and sexuality.

Tapped by the biggest commercial artists from Jessie Ware to Sinead O’Connor and Florence and The Machine, Blakey’s choreography for music videos has equally attracted clients from Gucci to Bollywood. This, she admits, has raised a few eyebrows – but exactly the ones that “Some Greater Class” was choreographed to confront. Because, while Blakey followed a well-trodden route from ballet to modern and contemporary dance, not everyone supported her later shift into the commercial realm. “I noticed a huge shift in my credibility in smaller contemporary dance circles”, she says. “Of course I was hurt, but it also sparked a bigger discussion for me about what that really means, what are we really saying about the public if art isn't deserving of everyone?”

Channelling her frustrations at those bent on setting apart “high-brow” from “low-brow”, Blakey choreographed “Some Greater Class”, weaving in wider explorations of social constructs, gender norms and sexuality. Performed and filmed in the summer of last year in a plant-filled room at London’s Hales Gallery, the erotic dance served as an alternative Garden of Eden – one where earth begins without gender binaries. Below, we speak to Blakey about battling gender ideals, social snobbery and collaborating with Gwilym Gold and Darkstar.

What triggered you to make the video and dance piece “Some Greater Class”?

Holly Blakely: I was commissioned by Hales Gallery and Arts Council England to make SGC, and really it was born from my own experience in crossing through the contemporary and commercial worlds. Very quickly it became clear to me how much snobbery surrounds work made for mass culture. Who decides what’s good and worthy for whom? What are we really saying about each other and the public, if art isn't deserving of everyone? Essentially the piece surfaced through conversations about democratic accessibility in the art world.

The choreography appears to challenge gender norms, particularly with the male dancer “breastfeeding”. How do sexuality and gender issues come into play?

Holly Blakely: ‘A woman breastfeeding’ became a running theme through the show, toying with gender ideals and hyper sexualised bodies occurring in the context of music videos. Ideas of sex and violence sat at the foreground, with clear aesthetic images throughout the work... Sometimes the piece looked more like people dancing in a club than actually dancing for an audience. But, definitely after all of the chaos, SGC stands for connectivity. The dancers hold hands, slow down and sing (pretty badly) to the audience… it’s about being vulnerable enough to bring people together, to cut through what we don’t need.

What was your thought process behind the mise-en-scene? It's quite a sexually-charged atmosphere...

Holly Blakey: I filled the stage with luscious, fertile plants and placed fans in the audience that gently blew the leaves, but also tickled the backs of peoples' necks. The room was covered in blue-green “growing lights”, so everything had a sensual sense of youthfulness and purity, whilst somehow also feeling a little off-balance. It performed this strange kind of Garden of Eden.

You collaborated with Gwilym Gold and Darkstar for the soundtrack to the piece. How did you get them involved and what was it like working together?

Holly Blakey: Ultimately I’m a big fan of both these acts. I directed Gwilym’s “Triumph” video and knew that Darkstar were releasing politicised record Foam Island, a discourse on class as society looks now, it seemed the perfect marriage of ideas and context. We worked completely together, all of us, dancers, myself, making as we went. Everything was freshly composed for each section of the work and brought together and played live by Gwil for each show. It was amazing really.

Choreography for big commercial artists can often be seen to objectify, sexualise and fetishise women – as a female artist both in front and behind the camera lens, what’s your attitude on this?

Holly Blakey: My feminist politics I keep as a fluid discussion with myself and others that moves as quickly as my aging body and the aging world around us. Women (and thus men) from all cultures and creeds should be allowed to be all things… Lucid, ugly, fertile… or not, beautiful, dancing, sleeping, learning, working, sexual, equal and so on. And then we need to talk about context.

What other projects have you got coming up?

Holly Blakey: A week residency with Mica Levi at Southbank Centre. More videos, perhaps some touring and hopefully further showings of “Some Greater Class”.

Some Greater Class was filmed by Otto Burnham and edited by Megan ThorneFollow Holly Blakey on Instagram @Hollytblakey and Twitter @Holly_Blakey 

Click here to purchase Darkstar and Gwilym Gold’s Rope/Folk on vinyl.