This justice league of dancers is the basis for a character-driven commercial enterprise playing across sectors and media
By Rosie Lavan
PROJECT TITLE: THE LEGION OF EXTRAORDINARY DANCERS
SHORT STORY SYNOPSIS: When apparently ordinary people discover they have extraordinary powers in their dance abilities, two rival crews emerge: the Legion of Extraordinary Dancers (LXD), a force for good, and the evil Alliance of the Dark. Each dancer’s story and unique power is explored as an epic battle unfolds in a three-volume multi-platform series conceived as “a living, breathing comic book”.
FORMAT: Dependent on territory: three season web series in the US and UK of 10 x 8’ episodes; theatrical or television releases scheduled for other territories
PRODUCTION COMPANIES: Agility Studios with Jon M Chu and Hieu Ho
STATUS: Season one completed; season two in production; production of season three to follow
RELEASE DATES: Premiered on Hulu July 7 2010
The LXD was trailed as a justice league of dancers. Devised and directed by Jon M Chu, also behind Disney’s three Step Up films, the series follows two rival dance troupes – one good, one evil – whose members use their extraordinary dance abilities as superpowers in their battle against one another. With influences as diverse as Fred Astaire, Michael Jackson and Bruce Lee, Chu’s aim was to create and inspire “a new generation of dance heroes”.
The series premiered on Hulu, the online video service, and Paramount Digital Entertainment bought the worldwide distribution rights. While exact budget figures are not available, it was a multi-million dollar venture with the highest production values.
The LXD grew in part from a hit set of YouTube videos featuring Miley Cyrus with guest appearances from Lindsay Lohan, Adam Sandler and other leading Hollywood names. In 2008, Cyrus is said to have left a voicemail complimenting the dancer Adam Sevani on his work in Chu’s Step Up 2: The Streets. The Adam/Chu Dance Crew (ACDC) challenged Cyrus and her M&M Cru; The Biggest Online Dance Battle followed and the videos drew more than 45 million views. Chu wished to turn these exceptionally talented but usually anonymous dancers into household names.
From the outset The LXD was designed to be a commercial venture. Scott Ehrlich, executive producer and CEO of Agility Studios, wanted a property capable of delivering success and revenue across platforms, as World Wrestling Entertainment has done for some three decades. The intention was to create LXD the business, as well as the series. The company, led by Ehrlich and Chu, includes a live entertainment business: in 2010, before the launch of their series, the LXD performed at the TED conference, the Oscars and on the hugely popular TV show So You Think You Can Dance?, as well as opening the concert tour for Glee.
The property is readily adaptable. While in the US and UK The LXD is primarily a web series, in other countries it will air on television, and elsewhere it will be released in cinemas. The LXD premiered on iTunes in the UK on 27 September 2010; details for other territories are yet to be announced.
The LXD’s origins demonstrate Jon Chu’s savvy and intuitive approach to audience engagement. The dance battle with Miley Cyrus brought his troupe – and his concept – instant recognition among a target teenage audience who naturally looked online for entertainment and were prepared to keep coming back to see a story, or in this case a dance-off, through. This series, followed by the troupe’s high-profile public performances, where dancers appeared in character, helped create a strong identity and sense of anticipation for The LXD.
Chu understands how to reach, create and sustain audiences. He has hundreds of thousands of followers on social networks and the LXD itself is present on Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and YouTube. Its home site, thelxd.com, invites visitors to “join the adventure” by subscribing to the email list, and LXD merchandise is available to buy. Characters’ stories can be explored here – those that have been “unlocked” – and visitors can comment on and discuss the series with others.
The timing for the series was canny: The LXD launched in the wake of huge renewed interest in dance across America fuelled by shows such as So You Think You Can Dance?
Like Glee, The LXD takes an accessible, almost failsafe formula – a team of high-school misfits brought together by their talents. In addition, those talents which make the characters ‘different’ are ones which the audience could potentially share. Jon Chu was very keen to foster an active interest in dance among The LXD’s followers. The dance-moves demonstrated – breaking, popping, finger tutting and boogaloo among them – can all be emulated by viewers, and incorporated into their own original routines. Fans were invited to upload dance videos to the internet for consideration by the LXD’s Council of Elders, with the best dancers being invited to join the Legion.
Aspiration and identity are key themes in The LXD, and Chu’s express aim to create dance heroes – “the Tony Hawk of popping or the Michael Jordan of break-dancing” – can be viewed as part of the audience engagement strategy – a powerful emotional draw which encourages viewers to form attachments to characters.
The LXD’s commercial operation enables connection with different audiences, establishing a strong identity for the LXD brand. Notably, the live events at which the troupe performed before the series launched took them to the global stage – at the Oscars – and strengthened an important association with the hugely popular Glee. The series share a star: Harry Shum Jr., who plays Mike Chang in Glee, performs in and co-choreographs The LXD.
LINKS TO ADDITIONAL VIEWING
The LXD vs Miley Cyrus: The Biggest Online Dance Battle
The LXD “Moments” trailer, plus performances at the Oscars, TED conference and on So You Think You Can Dance?