Ryan Heffington on Choreographing Sia

And two: I can do sexy, he says. When I do sexy you willknowit is sexy.

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I just had to have my assistant hold my tequila, he explains.

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Sia took the same edgy dance-driven artistic route when she released her second video this year, Elastic Heart, which stirred viewers to study — and attempt — its choreography. Both these Sia songs — with versions of their dances — may even be featured during the artists first appearance on Saturday Night Live this weekend.

Indeed, Sia heard an outcry of comments from victims of abuse.

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He is certainly on his creative game, usually churning out music video dances in one day. For Chandelier, he wanted more.

I said, You have to let me into that room days before, he explains. I have to see this furniture, I have to see what it feels like.

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Directed by fellow Aussie Daniel Askill (who also shot Sias Believe Me,) the seismic Chandelier and Elastic Heart videos marks Sias first collaborations with revered local choreographer and studio owner Ryan Heffington (The Sweat Spot), who was contacted by the pop artist after she saw his KTCHN dance concert in Los Angeles in 2013.

Once Sia tasks him to portray certain characters, he says, she steps back. I love Sia for that, he continues. She trusts me. Its such a huge compliment.

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A dance omnivore who moved from Yuba City to L.A. at age 18, Heffington turns out to have the precise wit, boldness and sensitivity to fulfill Sias call for survival stories that are more nuanced than victim to victory.

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Heffington doesnt censor himself — hes beloved for raunchy, uninhibited club performances, too — but hes wise enough to know what belongs where. Responding to criticism that he had sexualized Ziegler by dressing her in a nude leotard in Chandelier, he says, For one, its a leotard from a dance class.

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As his work life accelerates — this fall he also delivered an 11-minute pool-side dance piece at Art Basel, and hints at a coming collaboration with Marina Abramovic — hes made two promises to himself: Never stop teaching and never stop going to clubs. To do it all, hes learned moderation and adaptation; when he first taught he was so committed he wouldnt take a day off from teaching for 2 and a half years; now he gets subs. And last week he went out dancing, leaning on his crutches.

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With Heffingtons intense, compulsively-watchable movement vocabulary, its no surprise Chandelier was nominated for a GrammyMusic Video of the Year. But amazingly, thats not Heffingtons only Grammy feat this year. He also choreographed and performed in the dance sections ofWe Existby Arcade Fire, featuring Andrew Garfield as a trans youth, also nominated for a 2014 Best Video. He may be the first choreographer to work on two Best Video nominees in one year, though the official nominations cite only director, artist and producers. When reached for comment, a Grammy rep wrote that the awards department doesnt keep such records.

A day after the Elastic Heart release, Sia sent out explanatory tweets: I anticipated some pedophelia!!! cries for this video. All I can say is Maddie and Shia are two of the only actors I felt could play these two warring Sia self states. Then later she added: I apologize to those who feel triggered byElasticHeart. My intention was to create some emotional content, not to upset anybody. Reports that she will be releasing a making-of video also surfaced.

In their second video together, Elastic Heart, Zieglers spooky, skittish child character returns, this time walled inside a giant metal cage with actor Shia LaBoeuf, with whom she tussles in the same fidgety, playful and powerful way she wailed on her Chandelier surroundings. Another grand slam invention, Elastic Heart features a swift, unfussy portrayal of lifes limitless beauty, even amid anguishing full stops.

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Jean Lenihan is an award-winning arts journalist with sidelines in editing, teaching and creative writing. Raised in Manhattan in the roaring 70s, she grew up watching and studying dance at the High School of Performing Arts and Sarah Lawrence College plus she holds an MA in writing from Johns Hopkins University. Formerly the staff dance critic for the Seattle Times and the Seattle Weekly, she now writes regularly for the Los Angeles Times and other outlets.

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A darkly handsome, mustachioed bunhead, Heffington is not hard to locate — hes still teaching five days a week atThe Sweat Spotwhen hes not busy on corporate jobs and music videos. Speaking recently from his Silver Lake dance studio, nursing an ankle he twisted in the sand, Heffington talked about the amazing feeling of havingmore workthan he can handle, and few constraints. Clients tend to contact me when theyre looking for something creative, he says. So generally, they let me do what I want.

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Heffington reveled in the surprise pleasure of the combined success of his Sia collaborations. Chandelier is still getting 1 million hits a day, he said. Its amazing. Compared to the disequilibrium when folks started recognizing him for his work on RuPauls Drag Race a few years back, Heffington says his current success had landed at a time when he feels grounded. Hes got a house now in Echo Park, and his studio runs in the black.

Ziegler was so f-cking smart, Heffington says. He ended up using only two of his allotted days, and sharing much of his motivation with her. For the scenes where she rubs her belly, or slides into a full split with a distended stomach, he told her to think of a hoarders mentality. Youre old, youre obese and youre stuck here. She was able to attach to some of that.

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Ryan Heffington on Choreographing Sias Chandelier and Elastic Heart Videos

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Jean Lenihan is an award-winning arts journalist with sidelines in editing, teaching and creative writing. Raised in Manhattan in the roaring 70s, she grew up watching and studying dance at the High School of Performing Arts and Sarah Lawrence College plus she holds an MA in writing from Johns Hopkins University. Formerly the staff dance critic for the Seattle Times and the Seattle Weekly, she now writes regularly for the Los Angeles Times and other outlets.

Arcade Fires We Exist also got people talking. For Heffington, discussions over the casting of actor Andrew Garfield in place of a transgender performer dont detract from the work. In the video, he choreographed all the dance, and appears in the dream quartet of dancing men, first seen in a bar, then onstage during a roaring outdoor concert that was filmed at Coachella. I feel like when were dancing at Coachella — Im getting teary-eyed, Heffington said, In the middle of tens of thousands of people, gay men in heels and cutoffs, performing with confidence and pride while being supported by one of the biggest bands in the world — this is important.

Raw, virtuosic and gritty — the two effecting videos follow a simple concept. InChandelier,a skinny-boned 12 year old named Maddie Ziegler, trained in the rather artless world of competition dance (shes a Dance Moms regular), stalks and careens around a darkened, lifeless apartment, grimacing and spinning and galumphing in unfamiliar shapes. Sheathed in a flyaway platinum wig and flesh-toned leotard, Zieglers bullet-speed directional and emotional shifts seem to leave no marks on her gleaming self. Will she just keep flickering forever, like a failing fluorescent bulb? Viewers become hooked by the videos alchemy, superimposing Sias music alongside Heffingtons choreography, capturing moments of lingering incongruities.

Concurrent with Chandelier video release, Sia decided to conceal her face during all performances and interviews. Showing only the back of her blond bob, shes not unlike an orchestra conductor these days, and in that vein, Heffington — more than Ziegler — her true concertmaster/first violin. Heffington adapted all of Zieglers live appearances with Sia this year (the Ellen Show, Jimmy Kimmel, Dancing with the Stars) as well as appearing posed frozen with her as she sang for three minutes onVH-1 Soundclash(she faced upstage, he faced the audience.) Just the vibration, the heat from her body, he said about Sias performance. I was somewhere else.

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LaBouef, 28, appeared once before in a Heffington work, in a much more sexual role in Sigur Rs:Fjögur pan,And while these non-verbal roles have a healing quality — LaBouefs muteness feels to uncouple him from past drama, rebuilding him from the body up — its arguable that memories of his nude turn inFjögur panmay stain the tentative sense of caretaking and intimacy achieved with Ziegler in Elastic Heart.

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He knew Ziegler would interact with the walls, floors, and tables. You can put kids in a pile of dirt and they are so content. She should know the underneath of the table because she lays under there and thats where she sleeps and she can stick her gum to it. She leans up against this wall, she frames herself, she can jump on the furniture — thatsherworld, whether she was left there or she never had anyone from the beginning, you dont know these things.

Heffington explains the names of some of his Chandelier moves (Mustache, Robot Bird!) in a video onNownessand its one of the sites top hits.

Ryan Heffington on Choreographing Sias Chandelier and Elastic Heart Videos KCET

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Sometimes a music video is more than a music video — with choreography often the catapult. When Spin named Australian singer-songwriter Sia the 2014 Artist of the Year, they called Chandelier: a top-ten hit thats inseparable from its striking music video, which is, in its own right, a blunt yet graceful performance-art piece that illustrates an inebriated crackup.

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Ryan Heffington on Choreographing Sia

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