What can dance tell us about intellectual property? A lot, it turns out

How a casebolt and smith dance performance has a lot to say about intellectual property and re-appropriation.

As mentioned earlier, one of the really excellent performances we saw at the Minnesota Fringe Festival was casebolt and smith’s O(h).

While it’s really hard to describe and summarize such a complex performance, a section I particularly loved had them doing a somewhat traditional dance to a large chunk of the audio from the video below. The video is of an art installation by Nate Harrison where the viewer listens to the audio on an LP, where Harrison discusses how a drum break from the The Winston’s 1969 B-side “Amen, brother” (often referred to now as the “Amen break”) has been sampled, re-used, and deconstructed in hip-hop and commercial advertising. Harrison’s discussion is a really nice piece of cultural history and analysis, although I confess it was perhaps more compelling with casebolt and smith dancing at the same time.

It would have been interesting in its own right if casebolt and smith had simply danced with Harrison’s commentary. They took it up a notch, however, by following it up with a really interesting dance/discussion of how dancers use and re-appropriate moves and steps they learn in classes and see in performance, effectively “sampling” movements much like a hip-hop artist samples beats. She demonstrated various moves and styles, and he then grilled her about where she learned the moves, and on the appropriateness of re-using these moves without credit or payment. This quickly borders on the absurd, which is of course the point. The courts have allowed labels to charge for re-use of tiny fragments of recordings, where there are no such expectations in dance. Presumably a key piece of this is the ability to record (either on paper or as an audio recording) and distribute music, where dance can’t be recorded and copied in the same way.

In short, it was a cool, funny, intelligent performance. We had a great time, and highly recommend the show.

I found it really interesting to find that the YouTube version of the video above was in fact lifted from Harrison’s web site without his permission, although he says in the comments that he doesn’t care (search for “nkhstudio” in the full comments). So you have Harrison making a commentary on copyright and intellectual property, which is then appropriated by someone else and turned into a YouTube video. Then casebolt and smith use it in their performance, without ever telling us where that audio comes from, as a starting point for a great conversation about intellectual property. And while it’s possible they knew about the Harrison piece before it showed up on YouTube (Harrison was a friend from college for all I know), the odds favor them discovering the piece via YouTube, where it has over 2 million views.


  • Now I’ve listened to “Amen, brother” (a song I’d never heard of)
  • because of a dance performance
  • borrowing parts of an audio track
  • which I was able to find via Google
  • as a YouTube video
  • generated (without permission) from a video by a performance artist commenting on intellectual property and copyright
  • using as a springboard the extended and repeated use of a 6 second drum break from The Winston’s “Amen, brother” in hip-hop and advertising

What a wonderful example of how re-appropriation can enrich the world, especially if we worry less about profit and more about gain.

Related posts

An excellent time at the Minnesota Fringe!

Promo shot for Speech! at the Minnesota Fringe

Tom and I are living in the Cities for 9 days while he’s in the Shakespeare workshop at the Guthrie Theater, and quite happily our first week coincided with the last week of the Minnesota Fringe Festival. We saw some great shows, and with a little luck you can still catch some of the awesomeness, either tonight or as one of the encore performances tomorrow, where the best selling show at each venue gets one more show.

Tuesday we saw James T. Wilson, a two person show including Stanton Pavlicek in the title role. We know Stanton and his family from Morris (his dad was a huge help in building an enormous frame to hold up our gargantuan honeysuckle vine), and it was cool to see two 18-year olds just out of high school in this setting. The show itself was still struggling to become, and while there was a of potential, it’ll need some more work to realize that possibility.

Thursday we saw Speech!, an absolutely hilarious comedy about the goofy (and often twisted) world of high school speech competitions. The writing and performances were tres sharp, and the audience was rolling in the aisles from the start to finish. This show has received a number of well deserved nominations, including a best male performance for our friend and UMM alum Tim Hellendrung! Tim’s did lots of cool improv back at UMM (as well as being an excellent manager for the campus radio station), and has continued to develop at Comedy Sports in Minneapolis. It was great to see him do such a fine job in a great ensemble production like this. Big congratulations to Tim and the entire cast and crew!

Last night (Friday) we saw what will sadly be our last show, because we head back to Morris this afternoon so Tom can hang with his friends some before we come back to the Cities Sunday night. We went out with a bang, though, catching the amazing O(h) by casebolt and smith, a two person show unlike any dance performance I’ve ever seen before. They combined some great dance with liberal splashes of spoken word and singing, providing a rich piece of performance than transcended any simple notion of genre. There was wonderful (often comedic) commentary on both culture in general and dance in particular, creating a really fun experience that was also chock full of food for thought. They also received a number of nominations, and our group (two straight guys and a woman) all agree that a sweaty Joel Smith in Superman briefs is hot!

Promo shot for O(h) at the Minnesota Fringe Festival

There’s a great section in this performance about intellectual property that inspired a long enough commentary that I’ve moved to it’s own post. It’s not often in my experience that a dance performance explicitly opens these kinds of doors, so check it out.

Related posts