The 2023 Academy Awards ceremony was a particularly memorable one—and not just because the iconic “red carpet” was, for the first time in decades, not red. With outstanding stage performances, history-making wins for talents of underrepresented communities and tight races across the board, last night’s broadcast kept viewers on the edge of their seats.
As for us dance enthusiasts, we especially awaited the performance of “Naatu Naatu,” the exceedingly catchy track from the Telegu film. Rrr that later that evening would make history as the first Indian film song to win an Oscar, claiming the award in the Best Original Song category. The anticipation for this performance was noticeable throughout the night, even well before the ceremony began—during the preshow broadcast, ABC news reporter Chris Connelly shared that he had worn his suspenders in anticipation of dancing along with the ensemble, and during a preshow interview, “Naatu Naatu” star Ram Charan got anchors Linsey Davis and Whit Johnson moving with a bit of the viral choreography.
The evening’s first onstage dance moment was both hilarious and unexpected. To wrap up his opening monologue, ceremony host Jimmy Kimmel joked that if any awardee’s speech went on too long, rather than being played offstage with the typical music, they would instead be danced off by a group of “Naatu Naatu” performers. The audience burst into laughter as six of the dancers surrounded Kimmel doing the hallmark hook step, enthusiastically edging him off to kick off the awards.
Next was the weirdly wonderful performance of the best picture winner Everywhere all at once‘s track “This Is a Life,” which was nominated for Best Original Song alongside “Naatu Naatu.” An ensemble of dancers in white costumes reminiscent of martial arts uniforms joined the band Son Lux, singer/songwriter David Byrne and best supporting actress nominee (and former Broadway performer) Stephanie Hsu in their delightful and wacky performance of the song, complete with an onscreen cameo from EEAAO digital star Raccacoonie. In a quirky number studded with extraordinary martial-arts-esque feats, slow-motion moments and an ending contraction held for an impressively long time, the dancers of “This Is a Life” took the multiverse track to the next level.
About an hour and a half into the ceremony came the much-awaited performance of “Naatu Naatu.” Expectations were high for this anti-colonial “banger,” as described by presenter Deepika Padukone, but the cast—which included a surprisingly low number of South Asian performers—exceeded nearly all with its rip-roaring Technicolor performance fit for the Broadway stage (RRR: The Musical, anyone?). The dancers’ infectious energy and powerful execution of the iconic choreography added to the list of the evening’s triumphs—for film, song, South Asian acting and, inarguably, dance.
The Oscars may historically be all about the little gold man, but after nights like last night it is clear to us the power that strong performances make. While we’ll still wonder why there isn’t a category for best choreography yet, the dance world has a lot to be proud of from this year’s crown jewel film event.
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