From the New York Times:
“They lie amongst us, preparing for battle, waiting to rise and change things for good. Some are gifted in ability, others are trained to master it and some, some have it bestowed upon them at birth, but they all must choose.” These words, spoken in a James Earl Jones baritone, could be the opening crawl for the latest “X-Men” movie. But they aren’t referring to traditional superheroes, at least not in the masked and overly muscled sense. They are dancers.
The lines come from the first episode of “The LXD” or “The Legion of Extraordinary Dancers,” a new dance-inspired Web series created by Jon M. Chu, the 30-year-old director of the hit 2008 movie “Step Up 2: The Streets” and the soon to be released “Step Up 3D.”
The series, which made its debut on July 7 on Hulu is produced by Mr. Chu and Hieu Ho with Agility Studios, and is a leap in Web-based original programming. “This is the most ambitious project that has been done for the Internet,” said Thomas F. Lesinski, the president of Paramount Digital Entertainment, adding later that the cinematography “could hold up in a movie theater.” New episodes will appear every Wednesday throughout the summer. Changing public perceptions about dancers was part of what Mr. Chu had in mind when he conceived the series.
“Dancers actually have a real power,” said Mr. Chu, who studied tap growing up in Palo Alto, Calif., before he fell for filmmaking, and this is how he views the dancers in the show. “Some people call it aura, some people call it chi, we call it ra,” he said. “And the ra is that power.” He added: “So when a b-boy does his spins, if you concentrate, you can see him shoot out that power, and it can affect someone physically. Or like when a ballerina cuts her leg through the air, it’s actually like a Ninja slice across someone’s face. And a jazz dancer’s jazz hands can actually rumble the floor if they know how to do it in the right way.”
LXD Episode 1: The Tale of Trevor Drift
How many episodes per season?
There’s ten episodes per season. So we’re on episode three. And really, the first season is just origin stories. We plant a bunch of ideas and questions in the air. We answer a couple questions here and there, but the actual thing goes down [in season two] when we actually start to see the bad guys start to confront the good guys. So season two is more of the villains and the conflict. But season one is all the individual dancers we’ve kind of seen in our live performances, we’re kind of catching everybody up and showing how they discovered their superpower. And then we go from there.
So I wanted to ask you about the relationship between superhero fighting and dancing, and what made you want to combine those.
It really came from the dancers themselves, just meeting them, and through my experience of getting to know these guys, and then meeting more of them through the underground. And seeing that each one has crazy things I’d never seen before. Like finger-tutting. I never knew what finger-tutting was before. And there’s a guy who sits in a chair and does this dance with just his fingers, and he can do it for six minutes without even repeating a move. And it is so poetic and beautiful. It’s human, it’s emotional. I thought that was really amazing.
And you see a guy who spins on his head for 80 times in a row. That is absolutely super-human. And then you get to know the guy, and you see the story behind how he trained to do 80 in a row and why – because his parents passed away and he had nothing else to do, and he found focus in it. Their stories really became superheroes’ stories. I started to write just based off of their stories, but really just fantastical things.
It opened the door. As soon as we did that, everyone got really excited about it. I think dancers really feel like they can do things other people can’t do, physically. But usually people get swept up in the idea of, “Oh, that guy can do that 80 times.” They don’t ever think about the other side of how they got there. And that’s what I really think is fun for us is exploring in the characters, how they got there, and the journey forward.
And I just love the the idea that each of them is different than the next. Usually when you’re doing a dance movie or a commercial and you’re hiring dancers, you want choreography dancers, who can follow a choreographer and do what they’re told, basically. They’re pretty much dancing in the background of some artist or doing something. In this, with the dancer as focus and the dancer as hero, each one has to be really different than the next. So we’re almost looking at the opposite. We’re looking for people who can freestyle, people who are creating their own styles and inventing their own styles. Because we’re agile in the way we make these things and how fast we make them, we can keep up with the new guys. So it’s a fun collaboration in that respect…
LXD Episode 2: Antigravity Heroes
From the Cinematical interview with Madd Chadd:
Madd Chadd and his robot crew tutted in formation like a mechanized, five-bodied automaton as Chu’s crew held their collective breath at the monitors, whispering in excitement — and then relief — as the sequence played out like poetry on the screen. Another set-up moved to Madd Chadd’s solo in close-up, drawing a crowd of his fellow LXDers out to watch the show.
Staggering from the impact of Frantick’s invisible attacks, Madd Chadd, an actor, former UCLA high jumper, and sometimes model with an uncanny ability to move like a humanoid robot, let off a series of Terminator-like arm cannons that propelled him backwards down the dusty street. The meticulously detailed performance elicited an eruption of applause and cheers from his fellow dancers; in the LXD universe, talent celebrates talent, whether that mutual appreciation comes from experts in krumping, ballet, freestyle, tumbling, hip-hop, or anything in between.
Madd Chadd, AKA Chadd Smith, himself traces his love for popping to watching a dancer named Boppin’ Andre perform eight years ago. Once he discovered the mechanical movements of the robot, Smith devoted himself to the style and credits it with making him a true dancer.
“For me, it was the illusion first, and the dance came second,” Smith told me. “I wasn’t a dancer at all; I couldn’t two-step on beat. If you’ve seen the movie The Jerk, I was the Jerk. I found dance through the robot.”
Years of practicing with fellow poppers and studying mechanized movements of all kinds, from animatronics to Harryhausen stop-motion animation to the RoboCop and Terminator films, brought Madd Chadd’s inner robot to the fore. Now, at 27, he’s one of the lead figures of The LXD, eager to share and inspire a new generation.
“A lot of street dancers have this idea that they want to hold what they have and protect it, or somebody’s going to take it and use it on them or steal it from them,” he explained. “A couple of years ago I had this realization that I could die without ever influencing anyone, or ever showing anyone what I have, and the only way I started was by being influenced and inspired that way.”
Elsewhere on set, another LXD member with seniority echoed Madd Chadd’s deep respect and love for street styles as art. “Energy is alive, and you are responsible for a move being able to live or to die,” said Christopher “Lil’ C” Toler, the 27-year-old co-founder of krumping who first earned notice in David LaChapelle’s documentary Rize and has since become a regular choreographer on the TV competition “So You Think You Can Dance.”
To Lil’ C, who was introduced into the LXD fold by former roommate Shum, the aggressive, controlled movements of krumping are well-suited to tell a story about dueling superheroes — a synergy on display in Episode 5, which introduces his and fellow krumper Deuce’s characters. “A chest pop could communicate taking your chi and shooting it out, and that move becomes energy projected at someone, and then it becomes a weapon,” he explained. “Now it’s not only dancing; your dance style is speaking, it’s communicating, and it’s a form of combat and defense… The LXD is like Rize meets 300.”
LXD Episode 3: Robot Love Story