Yorgos Lanthimos’s The Favourite has all the trappings of a period drama: Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) moves around her massive palace in ornate, regal gowns. Sitting atop Nicholas Hoult’s head is a wig the size of a mini-fridge. The wide-angle lenses make the lush 18th-century interiors look lonely, but they’re still majestically decorated, with tile floors and meticulously designed tapestries. And then the movie winks at you as it inverts every period-drama cliché: Everyone congregates in a cavernous ballroom for a party. Joe Alwyn and Rachel Weisz jaunt down a veritable Soul Train of European aristocracy — except instead of dancing very formally, they’re voguing.
At first it looks like an error — Is my meme-saturated brain playing tricks on me? But the scene is played for humor, and a little bit of despair: Colman looks on as Alwyn and Weisz’s moves become increasingly modern and outlandish (at one point he wraps her around his back, and twirls them both around). She’s reacting not to the movements themselves, but to all the fun she’s not sure how to have. Suddenly, the dancing goes beyond a mere contrast between place and period, and becomes something else entirely: an avant-garde fusion of formal and funky.
“It’s this strange, funny contrast between a very stuffy, rigid format of wigs and a straight-laced costume, and these very modern dance moves,” Alwyn said of his scene at the movie’s New York City premiere. “I hope it’s very funny.”
The Favourite’s choreographer, Constanza Macras, worked with her assistants to choreograph the dance sequence, combining time periods and trends, taking inspiration from rock concerts, blending the unusual and the absurd to create a delightful sense of strain in the scene between the movements and the setting. “Yorgos wanted something that is period but is not period,” Macras told Vulture. “I also like that it’s not looking like dance dance. It’s dance, anyway, but it’s not formal.”
Macras’s assistants would demonstrate the choreography for the actors in detail during the physically intensive rehearsals, but she preferred the way the actors performed the dance scene on their own terms. “When actors see dancers dancing, they think that it’s dance, that they can’t do it in the same way,” she said. “The choreography looked better on the actors than it did on the dancers because it was made for them. There was space for interpretation. They should do the movements how they felt them, that’s what makes the movements more special.”
Instead of counting, they named each step with a brief description: “Frog,” “off with her head,” “sit, sit, sit.” “It’s much easier to know the step called ‘the exorcist,’ and then voguing!’ We’d scream the steps so everyone would remember,” Macras said. Her personal favorite move happens off camera between Weisz and Alwyn, when the camera is fixed on Colman: “It’s a very strange movement. I don’t know how I did it. It was so funny; it looked like a machine, like a sewing machine or something.”
In another scene choreographed by Macras, Alwyn and Stone wrestle outside in the forest, running into each other and collapsing among the leaves. Macras went over a few movements with the actors, but mostly she was watching on a monitor behind a tree nearby as they let loose on each other. “For the tussle, we didn’t have names because they were fixed in the script. They knew they were rolling, and at some point they would be on the floor, and they would have some lines,” Macras said. “We kind of had a structure with the text there, so it could be a little bit looser. It was meant to be free and move; it wasn’t choreographed to a count.”
The most unexpected element to the choreography were the costumes, designed by Sandy Powell. They’re all ornate and beautiful, but Weisz’s corset made a few of the moves impossible. (“Some of the moves became physically impossible, like, ‘I can’t do that with this dress on,’” Weisz told Vulture in November. “Yorgos said, ‘Okay, then, try something else.’”) Ultimately, the adjustments made the final scene even more bizarre; the characters are in uncomfortable clothes and in uncomfortable spaces, heightening the tension. “The costumes added something very beautiful,” Macras said. “It created some real awkwardness in these movements. It was not suppressing the choreography, but really giving more.”