Photo credit: Brian and Scott Nicholson
Throughout the past seven years, dancers Brian and Scott Nicholson have been by Ariana Grande’s side through the emotional lows and the very high highs of her career. After dancing for Grande for three years, these twin brothers gradually transitioned into her creative directors/choreographers and are responsible for some of her most memorable performances. Most recently, the duo conceptualized Grande’s “Last Supper” VMAs performance where she sang “God is a Woman.” The real purpose of this performance was to create a piece of art that the audience could digest while promoting inclusiveness in today’s world.
To bring this piece to life, Brian and Scott took three weeks to experiment with a wide range of dancers, ultimately narrowing their cast down to 50 women. Diversity was extremely important in this piece, so the choreographers assembled a cast of many types of women including a trans woman, a woman who had her breast removed because she “couldn’t identify with them,” a lesbian, straight and bi women, and women of all ages.
I spoke with Brian and Scott this week to get more information on this specific VMAs performance and their career with Ariana Grande.
1. How did you become connected with Ariana Grande? How long were you a back-up dancer before transitioning to the choreographer/creative director role?
Almost 8 years ago, I (Scott) went to an audition with Ariana’s previous choreographer and during the audition I mentioned that I had a twin brother who also danced and was right next door with dancers for the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show. He was interested in both of us, so Brian came over and prepared for his audition in 15 minutes and we both made the cut. Our first big performance with Ariana was for the “Put Your Hearts Up” music video. Now, we’ve been dancing for Ariana for more than 7 years and about 4 years ago we began assisting with choreography, around when “Break Free” came out. Since then, we’ve transitioned to her creative directors and choreographers. The beautiful part about our relationship with Ariana is that we all made a mutual investment in each other and she has made us part of her brand.
2. You just choreographed a visually-stunning piece for Ariana at the VMAs. Talk about the challenges of choreographing a visual piece as opposed to one full of complex choreography.
For this visual piece, we did a lot of feeling and experimenting with the song. Instead of filling it with choreography we let the song breath while following the rhythm and pockets of song, essentially focusing on how it made us feel. We wanted to stay true to the picture and the message. The last thing we wanted viewers to comment on was how
they thought the dancers and choreography were great; we wanted them to digest the message and feel something.
For this piece, we wanted conversational movements, but also wanted to push limits to give it an edge. Thankfully, we were able to include so many types of women and had the time to change and add different elements. The biggest challenge of a piece like this is to create the same huge impact but to do it with simplicity, giving the audience a moment to digest what they just saw. A lot of times, when choreography is simple, it can seem more inclusive and we wanted to show that even commercial art can be inclusive. Additionally, every dancer had a character to grab on to in this piece, which made the movements come naturally.
3. How did you come to the decision to bring Ariana’s family out at the end of the VMAs performance?
At rehearsals, we both had the idea to bring out members of Ariana’s family at the end of the piece to give it an aspect of real, raw emotion. We mentioned to Ariana that it would be cool to bring out her mom, grandmother, and cousin at the end of the piece and she loved the idea. These women are all very strong, beautiful, vulnerable women, and it made this performance personal to Ariana. She wanted to do it as a thank you to the women who helped shape who she is today.
4. What is your biggest accomplishment in dance?
Brian: I’m proud that I’ve stayed true to myself and my creative process. I believe in feeling as I create to make pieces that will connect with our audience and the world. We spent a lot of time working on the choreography for “Be Alright.” This song is about keeping hope for the future and was used as the opening song on Ariana’s “Dangerous Woman” tour. After Manchester, this was the first song we performed, and it gave the audience a huge hug. When the song talked about wiping tears away, I had to wipe my own tears. It really brought our creation and art full-circle; it became real. Everyone felt the power of art, and we were proud of the creation and that feeling. I got the same feeling with this recent piece for the VMAs.
Scott: Whatever I do, I do it full-force and I don’t waste time. I’m proud of everything I get to do with my brother and Ariana and proud that I’m still doing things in this business. I love what we accomplished with Ariana’s Manchester benefit show. We really wanted to show that when faced with crazy odds, we could still perform at our best.
5. Talk about some future projects coming up.
Aside from hopefully touring again with Ariana in the next few years, we feel a responsibility to give back to the dance community in our down time by teaching. We serve as curators for the Debbie Reynolds Legacy Dance Studio and try to teach at least four times a week. We not only teach students choreography, but also to have intention when they are dancing.
In addition to dancing, I (Brian) have an art brand called Kid Orange that allows me to create different kinds of art and fashion. During Ariana’s last tour, we collaborated and re-did her merchandise, which sold out in all Asian markets. My brand was recently picked up by Urban Outfitters and I will have a booth showcasing some of my stuff at ComplexCon on November 3-4.
Brian Nicholson: Twitter and Instagram- BriLoveLife
Scott Nicholson: Twitter and Instagram- iamskot
YouTube: oRange Twins