Choreography: "Cry Me a River"

Justin Timberlake’s classic 2002 kiss-off “Cry Me A River” cemented his solo career by telling the tale of a tortured man reeling through heartbreak. Fifteen years later, choreographer Andrew Winghart created a stunning tribute in a Los Angeles warehouse, featuring a heart-broken narrator engulfed by a ‘river’ of 36 dancers.

The choreography in Winghart’s tribute, much like his choreography for the Oscars performance of the Moana song “How Far I’ll Go”, uses large scale formations and the fluidity of fabric to create an evocative and emotional atmosphere.

For the first 30 seconds, Winghart’s narrator is alone in a grand warehouse—his loneliness and powerlessness emphasized by the large empty space around him. After this initial contemplation, the dancers engulf him, the river running past him. At times, they ripple and echo his movements with stylistic syncopations, acting like the irregularities of memory. At other times, the narrator thrashes and combats the river as he is consumed by the anger and desperation of his grief. Eventually, the narrator grows strong and comfortable in his confidence, buoyed by the support of the river.

 A plan view of the performance as understood in five second increments

A plan view of the performance as understood in five second increments

Through breaking the piece into five-second increments, we can better understand the major and minor changes in sequence. The narrator has a limited path of movement, whereas the other dancers’ paths are constantly evolving and changing. Winghart refers to some of these “significant direction changes” of the dancers as one of “the most visually effective” aspects of his work. It is particularly powerful because the choreography is driven by and captured through a cinematic medium, rather than a live performance. While some of the spatial changes between sequences seem relatively minor, the use of video as medium helps to reveal their intricacies.

In these instances, the crowd of dancers execute simple choreographed moves at regular intervals, resulting in a mesmerizing fluidity that amplifies their effect. This is evident when the dancers are lined behind the narrator at 0:45, with each movement cascading down the river. As Winghart explains, “any change in direction multiplied by twelve rows creates an overwhelming and elegant effect.”

The dresses—originally designed for liturgical dancing—employ the fluidity of the fabric to soften the otherwise sharp and linear choreographed movements. While the narrator’s tight clothing stresses the constraints of his sorrow, the other dancers move freely in flowing dresses. “I have always been drawn to how long skirts echo the movement of dance,” Winghart notes, adding that “a lot of the movement in the piece was designed to emphasize the organic movement and weight of the dresses to add a kind of feminine strength.” At 1:30 the dancers jump in unison, and the behavior of the dresses creates the visual impact. Though the jump itself is quite static, the dresses’ reactions become an unpredictable and unique element that gracefully serves the piece.

A plan view of dress behaviors mapped at 1:30

Additionally, syncopations and rhythmic irregularities highlight movement by using simple motions “to create a nice effect without unnecessary distraction.” The buoyant step-touch during the pyramid’s forward movement at 2:40 becomes complex through the unevenness of the rhythm tied to the downbeat. Following in an almost liturgical approach, Winghart notes that the pyramid sequencing is derivative of “the step-touch of gospel singers.” These syncopations gain further power as they move through the 36 dresses—the river of dancers rolling and flowing behind a narrator who confidently floats atop.

More drawings inspired by the piece can be found below. Andrew Winghart is an LA based choreographer known for his unique and high energy compositions and intricately crafted staging patterns. Gabriela O’Connor is an architectural designer based in Boston. Her work continuously navigates between the architectural and ephemeral.