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If we’re being honest, Netflix’s Wednesday is, for much of its run, kind of blah—monotone, unimaginative, and just a little too keen on borrowing concepts we’ve seen before. But give it four episodes (I know, I know) and you’ll at least witness one of the best kooky dance scenes television has pulled off in a while. In an explosion of flailing arms, high kicks, and piercing stares, Jenna Ortega gives Wednesday (and Wednesday) a school dance to remember.
What is the name chosen for Nevermore Academy’s school ball? The Rave’N Dance, of course. Our lady of black dresses and braids has little interest in the fête, but winds up with a date at her door anyway, thanks to a little meddling from her favorite disembodied hand, Thing. (Thing also snags her a dress for the occasion using the “five-finger discount.”)
The stage is ready from the start for a set piece. The Rave’N Dance, like most school dances shown on television, looks a lot more expensive than a typical high-school prom. From the ice blue lighting to the crisp white accoutrements, this dance has flair. And then in marches Wednesday, date in tow, in a surprisingly fluffy (still collared) dress. Cue “Goo Goo Muck” by The Cramps.
It’s at this precise moment that Wednesday—a series that, despite Tim Burton, often feels starved for flashiness—finally starts to work. (At least, for as long as Jenna Ortega’s flailing her arms.)
But let’s discuss some of those dance moves. At times, Ortega’s movements telegraph “corpse bride;” her arms and neck dangle as though suspended by marionette. Then she’ll jerk out an arm with the crispness of Britney Spears on her Onyx tour, albeit at an angle that, again, might make her look dead. The camerawork on these shots only heightens the magic—soaring, at one point, to capture the piercing stare on Ortega’s face as she throws her head back to the music.
Wednesday’s presence at the Rave’N Dance might’ve been an unexpected twist for her peers, but the Addams Family actually has a rich history with dancing. The original series featured multiple episodes in which various characters tried to teach Lurch—the Frankenstein’s monster-like manservant best known for groaning, “You rang?”—how to groove. First it’s Gomez and Morticia in Season 1, and then Wednesday offers Lurch another lesson in Season 2.
And who could forget Anjelica Huston and Raul Julia’s fun, nearly fatal tango from The Addams Family Values, which gave a whole new meaning to the words “fire on the dance floor”?
It’s nice to see that Wednesday carries on this time-honored Addams tradition. But who was behind this work of choreographic chaos? Apparently it was Ortega herself who choreographed the thing in a week—and then shot it while sick with COVID.
“I’m not a dancer,” Ortega told NME, and I’m sure that’s obvious.” She said she got the song about a week before it was time to shoot. On the morning of filming, however, she said she woke up feeling “like I’d been hit by a car and that a little goblin had been let loose in my throat and was scratching the walls of my esophagus.”
The production gave Ortega medicine between takes, she told NME, as they waited on a positive COVID test result. (MGM, which produces Wednesday, told NME that “strict COVID protocols were followed and once the positive test was confirmed production removed Jenna from set.”) Although Ortega believes she could’ve execute the scene better if she’d been healthy, there was no time to reshoot the dance.
The good news is, she kills it anyway. One source of inspiration? Siouxsie Sioux, of the British rock band Siouxsie and the Banshees. Ortega told NME that she binged the video for “Happy House,” from the band’s third album Kaleidoscope—and that she might’ve cribbed a few moves from Siouxsie Sioux for her own number.
“There’s a bit in Wednesday’s dance where I’m jumping to the left and I have my arms to the side,” she said, “and that’s something that [Siouxsie] did on stage later in her career.”
With an inspiration like that (and a family legacy for choreographic excellence) it’s no wonder that for Wednesday, wowing the high school class was a snap.