Would you say that you felt reckless at times? Do you recall moments where things were thrown at you that you couldn’t have prepared for?
You develop a sixth sense and I had some bad experiences that helped me develop that quickly. I went to Kyrgyzstan and the situation was just all wrong: The plane landed at 3 a.m., I had no contact there and I ended up getting in a taxi with two guys, not just one. It ended really badly. It was basically a standoff in an empty gas station in the middle of the night where they were holding my luggage and demanding 250 Euros. I bargained them down to about 30 and then had them slide my luggage across to me while I threw the money at them and ran. That was a bad situation that could’ve gone a lot worse. I don’t want to call myself reckless, it was just pretty dumb. But that was an experience that has informed how I travel since then. If you travel enough, you’re going to have stuff like that happen, and hopefully you make it through in one piece.
On your website, in the FAQ section, you said if you do anything enough times, you get better at it. Traveling seems like the perfect example, especially after the situation in Kyrgyzstan—I’m sure you didn’t do that again.
It’s so true. It’s such a simple thing that I didn’t learn until later in life that the stuff that you’re bad at you can get better at just by doing it over and over again. It’s so obvious, but I always just kind of went, “Oh, I’m bad at this, I guess I’m just bad at it,” and then as you get older, you just realize, “No, I’ve just got to practice.” And it’s true about everything: Human interaction, travel—everything.
So we know dancing is not your forte. What did you do to learn all of these new dances?
Most of the clips we just kind of did on the spot. The emphasis is not on getting it right. In fact, the most interesting moments are when somebody’s getting it wrong and that triggers laughter or falling over—that’s the stuff that I end up using.
In the 2012 video, for example, when the dancers are motioning to each other from Greece to Egypt and Switzerland to Germany, for example, there’s definitely the impression that preplanning was minimal.
The jazz hands?
The jazz hands sequence, yes. When people goof up and go in the wrong direction, it seems to make the video more human. How does this contribute to the overall feel?
I think one of my favorite parts of the video is that jazz hands sequence where everybody is reaching back and forth. There is a feeling of interplay between the locations—each place is waving to the next place. I’d like to experiment with choreography that makes it feel like all of these places really are dancing together.
In the 2008 video, I juxtaposed Israel and Palestine in a similar way, but I regretted it a little because it’s a little bit on the nose. I try to avoid explicit combinations of places that are saying, “Look! These two places are at war and here they are dancing together.” It can work but it can also make you cringe. I wouldn’t want to put North Korea and South Korea next to each other and say, “See everybody? Can’t we all just get along?” I don’t want to be that overt.