After so much hype, I finally got to see the first season of The LXD – Jon M. Chu’s dance-based Action web series.
I’ve been intrigued by this project since I saw Chu’s call for dancers on YouTube a year and a half ago. He’s really got a vision of making dance action films that resonate in today’s era of social media. The back-story behind the project is almost more interesting than the plot line itself. A film director gets assigned to make a sequel to a Hollywood dance movie – Step Up 2: The Streets. While making this movie he falls in love with dance, specifically the skill involved in hip hop and street dance. This becomes the genesis for The LXD – an X-Men like legion of dance superheroes. To execute his new project, he took a completely modern approach. Instead of creating a feature length movie, he planned it out as a series of 10 min “webisodes” that would premiere online and later be consolidated into one “movie” for distribution on Netflix and DVD. Chu found his cast of dancers by putting out open calls on YouTube for dance audition videos. Then he built up a ton of hype for the series by creating hugely popular Twitter and Facebook pages, and added to that with a bunch of live appearances at big media events such as the Oscars, So You Think You Can Dance, and the TED conference.
From a marketing standpoint alone, I am very impressed by Jon M. Chu and the attention he has garnered for his project. Now what about the dance filmmaking itself?
I don’t think it is productive to rate The LXD based on originality. If you’ve seen as many dance films as I have, nothing in this series is groundbreaking in its approach to film and dance. What I was hoping for was a harmonious balance between dance, framing, plot line, and rhythm and he surpassed my expectations on most of these counts. The dancers are truly extraordinary, the camera movement and framing adds to the dynamism of the choreography, and the music and the editing came together in surprisingly artful ways. The weakest element by far is the plot line and the acting. Telling a story through dance is very difficult if you want it to seem “naturalistic” and believable as Chu’s Hollywood film background seems to lead. The problem is that dance is a poetic art form – using gesture, metaphor and symbolism to tell a story. When you try to add words, or worse yet, ask dancers to deliver lines, you run into dangerous territory. At best this Hollywood narrative approach makes The LXD series seem a bit clunky and cheesy, and at worse it detracts from the enjoyment of truly great dancing.
Thanks to the mini-series format of The LXD, Chu was able to play around with his approaches and switched it up a bit. In ten chapters you can see as many ways to tell a story through dance film: from silent film to split frames, and from web video to action film. My favorite episode was Chapter 3: Robot Lovestory with Madd Chadd, a pop-locking wizard whose robotic moves truly seem to defy humanness. Chu styled this episode after early silent films with dramatic music, jump cuts and short texts that appear as dialogue. The zany jump cuts across time and spaces keep the viewer sniffing for the narrative trail. Rather than hitting us over the head with the story we become detectives feeling our way around just like the main character who wakes up suddenly in the hospital with no memory of what happened to him.
Another notable episode for dance filmmakers is Chapter 9: Fanboyz which is basically a well-made instructional video on how to make great dance films. A vlogger, Cole Waters cracks the code to the initiation process to the LXD and posts his findings for all would-be members. He says if you want get picked up by The LXD (ie get your dance films noticed!) then you must:
1. Master a style of dance
2. Post it online (remember to use the space and your surroundings!)
3. Show a unique style
4. Be patient
That about says it all!
Season 2 is now playing on Hulu and this time we get to know the villains! Should be juicy. I’m staying tuned…