Partial to Yanis Marshall - OZY | A Modern Media Company

Partial to Yanis Marshall

Yanis Marshall, Arnaud Boursain and Mehdi Mamine
SourceYanis Marshall

Partial to Yanis Marshall

By Eugene S. Robinson


Because you have been put on notice: Anything you previously thought was too crazy to work probably isn’t.

By Eugene S. Robinson

The Studio Harmonic dance center in the 11th arrondissement in Paris is as unassuming of a place as you’re likely to find. Even if what you were looking for is a place where men dance in skin-tight leather and 6-inch-high stiletto heels. Which, under the skilled tutelage of 22-year-old Yanis Marshall, is exactly what they’re doing there.

And the studio’s calm exterior belies the crazy genius of even thinking this is something that should, could or would be done to any degree of success. But success — of the best, postmodern, Internet kind — is exactly what Marshall is having, up to and including the latest flurry of views for his stiletto-bootied take on Ariana Grande’s pop hit “Break Free.”

He was exposed to a much more in-your-face street-style jazz with hip-hop-influenced moves.

“Heels are not that strange, even men wearing them in this day and age. Not so strange at all,” says dancer and female female-impersonator Monique Jenkinson. “But it’s the audacity of his choreography — that is actually much more shocking. And pulling it off in heels. Now that is something.”

Which is exactly what you’ll understand if you see any one of his YouTube-sensational videos or his appearances on Britain’s Got Talent. That is, Marshall and crew doing some combination of jazz and voguing-like street style.

“He’s fierce and fun,” continues Jenkinson, who has performed in crazily high heels herself, and so knows of what she speaks. “I think he could also probably move beyond the unison thing, but those boys [in his crew] are great dancers.” 

Born in France to the director of a dance association, Marshall began racking up dance honors at age 15 and working as a professional at 16. While in New York at the tender age of 20 he was exposed to a much more in-your-face street-style jazz with hip-hop-influenced moves, all perfectly suited to his affection for the stagier stylings of Madonna, Prince and Beyoncé. These were the influences he brought back to Paris, where he’s now teaching, choreographing and performing.

But the joyful appeal of his routines may lie in his mix of masculine — the dancers’ and the dances’ raw physicality — and feminine — the delicate gestures and yes, the high heels. And he’s far from alone in this field: High-heeled dance great Ryan Heffington just won a best choreographer award at the MTV Video Music Awards. So theatrical, experimental dance may be having a moment, and it goes far beyond any males-in-female-footwear frisson. 

“I don’t pay attention at all to the costume aspect,” say Krzysztof Lubka, creative director at Grupa Tanca Wspolczesnego Kiosk Ruchu, in Poland. “I acknowledge it, but the creativity in the actual dance and choreography is what gets my attention — and [Marshall] does.”

Jenkinson concurs before she concludes, “You know about the ‘backward in heels’ thing? Well, women have been doing that for years.”

Duly noted. Just like this.


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