I am now going to review a tale of long-lost brothers, rebels, thwarted love, bionic men, chosen ones, unlikely and/or reluctant heroes, gun-slinging, bar-fights, magic shoes, bounty hunters, captured beloveds, separated friends and comedy. All this told almost exclusively through the medium of dance.
The LXD is both a web series and a group of dancers who have performed on So You Think You Can Dance and at the Oscars. Episodes in the series are short and to the point, ranging from five to fifteen minutes. Most clips are given a framework to clarify the context—a man with storybook in hand explains what you’re about to see.
The LXD webseries has the requisite overarching story to hold together its comic-book-like subplots. The dance styles vary, with most of it being street (hip-hop, breaking, popping, locking) with the occasional dash of ballet, contemporary, jazz or—!—TAP.
Just as the dance is a mish-mash of styles, so is the story. It includes elements of Harry Potter, Star Wars, X-men and pretty much any superhero tale you’ve ever heard of or watched. But that works marvelously in its favor because the dancing is the thing. You don’t want to have to worry about tedious exposition. All you really want here is a frame within which the dancing can work its magic. And it does. They use archetypes and use them well. The brilliance of this is that they are telling a classic “good guys vs. bad guys” story with all the favorite tropes (romantic, outcast, rebel, newbie, the broken one, love triangle) but they do it more effectively off-hand than others sometimes do with intent.
In these beautiful, brief episodes dance is utilized to represent everything: dance-offs mimic fist-fights; b-boys become defiers of gravity; robot-dancers have been mutated by the “bad guys” and so on. Initially it seems as though the dance itself is the weapon/super-power which the good guys will wield against the bad…but, by the second season, it becomes clear that powers are wielded through the dance. It’s like the force. Except that, instead of spinning around with a light-saber, you spin around on the floor and dance the bad guys down!
Once the mythos is fairly well established after the first season (which is to say, after eight or nine episodes scarcely equaling the length of a regular film) then the use of ‘dance-as-superpower’ reaches an increasingly high and effective function. It’s clever. It works for everything from bonding, to training, to school-boy rivalries, to romance, to excellent fight scenes.
But this should be no surprise, seeing as Dance is a language.
I will list a couple of what I found to be the most compelling episodes (and the two that I would avoid). For anyone with an interest in such things, and who likes it when dance thrives inside a storyline (or the other way around) I strongly advise you watch this.
My favorites are as follows:
1. The Robot Love story, in which a man’s life has been saved—but at great cost. He is no longer a regular human. It turns out that his wife gave up her freedom to save his life, though he seems to have little-to-no memory of this. This one is all dance, and no words—only the occasional caption on the screen, comic-book style. It is sad and beautiful and actually genuinely touching. I’m not even the biggest fan of the “robot” style—but this dancer is particularly talented, and I loved the bittersweet tone of this episode, as well as the truly brilliant use of this style of dance. His robotic movement perfectly conveys the strangeness of his tampered-with body. Obviously something is awry, and that is part of why he moves that way.
2. Elliot’s shoes: This is one of the cleverest bits of derivative story-telling. Kid (Elliot) finds shoes. Kid puts shoes on. Suddenly kid can dance. And he can’t really stop. It’s classic and a rather happier, more up-beat version of the ballet story The Red Shoes. Unlike the poor lass from The Red Shoes, his magic-shoes lead him to super-hero camp instead of causing him to dance himself to death. The dancer (who can be recognized from Glee and Step Up 3) doubles as an excellent actor—this cannot be said for all, I’m afraid—and he comically conveys the feeling that he really has no control over what his body does once those shoes are on him. He is fascinated by his own movement. (Oh, and he's one of the choreographers too, so don't be fooled by him looking so young and hilariously naive.)
3. I Seen a Man: This one actually presents my favorite character in the story. The dancer is introduced by a street-corner prophet in a bit of spoken-word (“I seen a man who feels the soul through his soles…but his mind is not laced tightly”) and is first seen dancing alone with his vain imaginations in a dirty, empty warehouse. And it’s TAP DANCE. He is the “rebel” type, according to the minstrel of the piece. I love his character partly because he’s a tapper + hip-hop dancer…partly because his dance scene was so compelling…and partly because in real life the guy’s an amazing choreographer as well. I hold out hope that he may have a “dark past.”
4. The Greater of Two Evils: This episode is a terribly clever (I keep using that word for a reason) depiction of a showdown between the two villains…or between their henchmen, actually. The music is pitch-perfect, and the stylistic differences between the two villain-camps makes for a fascinating show-down. I will not tell you who wins but, with dancing like this, it’s really hard to care. This episode is done without words. Instead it has 1920's silent-film style captions.
Here are the only two episodes I would advise skipping if you happen to be picky about the same things I am:
1. Tails of War: The super-heroes go out on the town. Out to a club. Some evil mermaid-sirens are there. They do a siren dance. You do the math. It was too much for me.
2. Rising: Now in all fairness this is an excellent episode. It means to mimic the style of a horror film, and boy does it ever succeed. It’s set on a Navy ship, where some vicious “eaters” (who dance a horrifying, twisting, contorting style and whose eyes are whited out for additional effect) have come to—I think—steal the soul of some young sailor and make him evil. So then the twisty-contorting guys and the now-evil sailor go about wreaking eerie havoc on the ship. It was clear that it was meant to seem demonic—so clear, in fact, that the makers of the episode felt the need to warn viewers, at the episode's outset, that they do not support a belief in the occult. I do not go for horror or anything demonic, seeming or being, so I skipped through most all of this one. Technically, I suppose, the fact that it made me so uncomfortable shows that they accomplished their goal of it being utterly ‘morbid and creepifying’. Ultimately I did not like it and would not watch it again regardless.
There are a couple of other fun little things like the fact that, in one of the episodes, there’s a fitting reference to how the dancers have to have ‘real-life’ jobs to cover up for their super-hero dance lessons—both from a classic Clark-Kent-works-at-the-daily-planet perspective, and from the plainer reality that most dancers probably have to have a day job, and can only ‘vigilante-dance’ on off-hours.
I was going to give it tempered praise, but I can’t! Each segment (minus the two mentioned) made the whole thing grow on me. I became enamored, and by the final episode of season two I was actually on the edge of my seat. And not just because of the dancing, but because of the story. Are they going to turn that one good guy evil? What happened to the robot guy’s wife? Why is the bounty-hunter guy—who mostly just stands around looking mysterious and anti-hero-like—so fascinating?! And why—WHY—did the Christopher Scott character not defeat the bad guys immediately with stellar tap-dancing? (I kept wanting to shout “just get out of the dust and back to the hard-wood floors! You can do it!) WHAT HAPPENS?!?!
I found myself completely wrapped up in the illogical logic of it. When the bad guys started throwing actual fists, I kept thinking “you can’t defeat them that way, you have to out-dance them."
By the by, season three starts this week, and here is a clip to whet the appetite for dance and minstrelsy:
And if you liked that, go ahead and watch this: