The scene is set for something dark and slow – the camera follows the silhouette of a man making his way through a small crowd. Slow claps of rhythm begin and the man finds his match – a woman in the audience with a shock of red hair. As the music begins to unfold he turns to her with purpose, gives a look that could almost be menace. What we know for sure is that these two are not strangers. She closes her eyes as the next beat hits.
The song pushes forward and the camera cuts close to a performer on stage – the shot is all face and microphone. Boys workin’ on empty/is that the kind of way to face the burning heat? The voice, smooth and full, belongs to Andrew Hozier-Byrne, an Irish singer-songwriter known on stage by the mononym Hozier. The man in the audience places his hand on the woman’s tense shoulder. She simultaneously takes a breath and drops it down under the weight. I just think about my baby/I’m so full of love I could barely eat. They look down, they look to each other, they look away and begin a sort of pulse and sway.
This is the first 45 seconds of the music video for “Work Song,” and I knew I’d stumbled upon something good. The song is simple and sweet – from what I can gather, a “bad” man saved by the love of a good woman – but carries an intensity beyond its simplicity. The choreography mirrors this. As the song continues, the couple begins to dance in a sort of contemporary waltz – equal parts pushing and pulling, equal parts sharp cuts of movement and the melting of two bodies into each other. The camera pans out and three other couples in the audience are performing the same movements.
The dancer with the red hair is Jillian Meyers who also happens to be the choreographer. I found this out initially via another YouTube video – The Troubadour Trial – where she does a performance of her vision for the video and gives a shout-out to Hozier at the end. They met briefly at a show in LA, she says, and she quickly expressed to him how much she loved his music. Excitedly she explains how much she would love to collaborate and the experience she wants to capture: “The experience of your music and movement but [for the audience to] be immersed in the moment of it. Not movement for the sake of it, but the feeling of those two things meeting.” She wanted to capture this in the audience of a small music show, the intimacy of that standing-room-only space pressed up against the intimacy of the song translated through movement.
I am a sucker for collaborations between artists, especially when one is a fan of the other’s work; the starving artist reaching out to someone famous and being received openly and with recognition of the struggle: we all start somewhere. In her shout-out Meyers seems taken over by her love for the music and her obvious passion for dance. This is already translated through her version of the video. The fusion makes sense. The soft and sharp movements of the dancing combined with the soft and sharp elements of the song fit perfectly.
Hozier’s reception was indeed warm and open. When the video was released he shared it on social media with a paragraph of praise for Meyers: “About a year ago the fantastic choreographer Jillian Meyers got in touch with an idea for a video to accompany the track 'Work Song.' I was immediately taken aback by her vision, talent and dedication to her craft… today I’m incredibly proud to say that I got to collaborate with someone of her caliber, ability, and work ethic.”
Hozier is an award-winning singer-songwriter. He’s won multiple awards in the UK and was nominated for a Grammy for his song, “Take Me to Church.” I first heard him when a friend sent me a link to his song “Someone New” and I was drawn to the sentiment. His singles and other videos address a variety of social issues – domestic violence, equal rights – but they’re love songs at their core. Love damaging, love healing, love saving us from the rest of the ugly world. “Work Song” is no exception.
The choreography for the video remained virtually unchanged from the original, but the professional quality of the camera work added even more to the intensity. The angles are tight – you really only see the upper bodies of the dancers for most of the piece. It asks a lot, a need not only to capture intensity in the movement but also in facial expression, in creating emotional connection. The final product, like the Troubadour Trial, is incredibly successful in capturing Meyers’ vision. The music is undeniably captured by the movement. It’s surprising at first to see these couples dancing so purposefully in an audience, but as you watch, it makes perfect sense. Meyers’ choreography is exactly the type of movements the song elicits; the dancers are moving the way I want to move when I hear it.
In researching this article I was hoping to find heartwarming interviews about an underdog working with a celebrity. A big break. But it’s not quite that at all. Jillian Meyers is a successful choreographer, widely known in the circles of dance. She actually grew up in my own home of Portland, Oregon but moved to Los Angeles to pursue her professional career. She’s worked on the television shows “So You Think You Can Dance” and “Dancing With the Stars”. She toured with Janet Jackson. If you look her up on YouTube you can find her working at Urban Dance Camp and performing for World of Dance Live.
Okay, so starving artist, not quite. But the fact that she’s established adds a balance and a beauty to the situation. Two people famous in their own worlds joining together to collaborate and create. A request from dancer to musician. A song causing a deep need to tailor movement to music. Both sides humbled in admiration. I’m sure there are thousands of choreographed music videos out in the world, but the artistic intent with which this was created really comes through. Brings it to a heightened level purpose, makes it feel complete. I’m not disappointed by the discovery, but ecstatic that this collaboration happened.
When, my, time comes around/lay me gently in the cold dark earth. Hozier starts in on the final chorus and each male dancer lifts up his partner in turn. Then again, all in unison. No grave can hold my body down/I’ll crawl home to her. At the final beat the partners drop and you see Hozier on stage with guitar slowly bringing the song to close. The fade out leaves our couple in silhouette, the rest of the audience gone, dancing close and slow in the dim light.