You've never seen a superhero story like the Legion of Extraordinary Dancers, or the LXD. The first three episodes of this heroic-dance webseries are online now. But creator Jon M. Chu tells io9 it gets a lot deeper. Spoilers ahead...
Even if you're not a fan of dance, it's worth checking out the LXD just for a new visual spin on the superhero genre. It's full of cool spins on the heroic archetypes from your favorite comic books. Not to mention appearances by people like Glee's Harry Shum and Veronica Mars' Ryan Hansen. Tons of people have been buzzing about the romantic, intense third episode, "Robot Lovestory," which just went online today. A man is confined to a hospital, under the care of a distinctly sinister looking doctor who seems to make his patients freak out. But there's more to this patient than meets the eye, and there are people around him who are looking out for. And then they dance it out!
Here's the teaser:
The episodes are up at Hulu — good for Americans, not so great for everybody else. But it's coming to other countries soon. We were excited to speak to director Jon M. Chu.
Congratulations on launching the series. Where are you with it now?
Thank you. We've been having fun with them. We shot these things over a year ago, actually. We already shot season two and we're editing season two right now. And each one, they're very different from the next. Some we'll hit right on, some we won't. They're all experimental. We're just having a good time trying to play around with dance and storytelling, and find a cool way to integrate the two.
So 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.
Yeah, and with the origin stories, a running theme seems to be that people trying to keep them from coming into their power.
Yeah. There's some of that. And there'll be some people who are being called back into duty. And you'll see some relationships, where people who have broken up and haven't seen each other in a long time, have to see each other again. There'll be people who have passed away and someone has to take up their duties. So we have a variety, and in each one we try to play with a different genre. With "Robot Lovestory" we wanted to do more of a film noir style. That's kind of the fun of our series, is that literally there are no rules. We're experimenting. We get to do an Amblin one, sort of a fairy tale one, and then we get to do an action one, and then we get to do "Robot Lovestory."
So how did you get Dick Casablancas from Veronica Mars to be in your first episode? I couldn't believe when I saw that.
Ryan [Hansen] and I are really good friends. We've never actually worked together. So I said, "Hey, I'm working on this kind of crazy thing, and if you've got a day off, come and hang out." And he was hilarious.
You filmed his whole part in one day?
We did the whole episode in a day. We do every episode in one day.
That's amazing. A whole episode, with dance sequences and everything, in one day.
Yeah, it's nuts. All the crew and stuff are people I went to film school with. All the dancers are people I knew from the Step-Up movies. Everything is very in-house. We're all a very tight family, because we have to do these things with very little money and make it look huge. And everybody's there because they want to be. And Kristen Bell just came to our premiere a couple of weeks ago, and she really wants to do a cameo. So you may see a little Kristen Bell.
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.
When I watch our crew perform at the Oscars and TED talks or So You Think You Can Dance, I feel a lot closer to it because I know these guys and we've been through a journey together. And I just want people to have that experience as well, so it's not just, "Oh, it's that dance crew." Once they know all the stories, even if it's a fantasy, they feel more attached to it. And then we can do a lot more live on stage, as well, to bring more emotion to their performances as well.
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.
So more about the dancing as fighting. It reminded me a bit of an old Michael Jackson video.
That's what inspired, I would say, 95 percent of our dancers. If you asked them who their number one influence was, they'd say Michael Jackson. Even if their style has nothing to do with Michael Jackson. He was the inventor of the modern musical. His short films... I remember on Sunday after The Simpsons, going to watch the premiere of "Black And White." Or "Remember The Time." Or even growing up, watching "Smooth Criminal" on VHS. So the idea of having a Michael Jackson-type video every week, but the stories connect, was part of the idea when it started.
So in season two, we'll learn more of the mythology? Like, who are these villains and why do they want to stop the LXD from being awesome?
You'll actually discover that maybe there's more than one enemy, maybe more than one group of enemies that will eventually join forces - or not join forces. You'll learn there's a lot more factions out there than just good and evil.
And you're going to learn what is the power of the actual dances they're doing. You asked the question of, "What is a weaponized dance move?" We answer that question more in season two than in season one. We actually call it the Ra. Everybody has an energy about it. Some people call it aura, some cultures call it chakra, some call it qi. We call it the Ra. Dancers can do what they can do above physical possibilities because whether they know it or not they have an understanding of how to use the inner energy in their body.
So when they do a dance move, they're actually tying that energy into a knot. And when taught right, they can actually send out their energy. Whether you're a ballet dancer who does a kick in the air and that's like a ninja slice that can hurt someone ten feet away. Or a crumper - when he pulls his chest out is like this giant fist in your face.
The physical aspects of it will start to grow as the series goes, and we'll start to reveal the secrets of the Ra. We have a history of where this power came from, and why it was buried and just called "dance" after a while. And then how it came up again in the invention of hip hop. And then the present day, into the far future, in the year 3000, when it all comes to a head. So there's a lot of mythology out there, and we won't explain everything in our webseries. But we have stuff that we would like to do, whether it's comics or [other stuff].
So will we visit the year 3000 in the web series?
I would love to. You'll have to see, but I would love to. We're already jumping around in time, as the series goes on. Next week, we jump back to before all the episodes you've seen started. Next week's episode shows how the uprising began. And then you'll see the guys who make the letters [from the LXD to dancers]. The ones who send out the letters and seek out the new blood - you'll see those next week as well.
So how's the feedback so far?
The feedback's been great. Hulu's a tough crowd, because they don't know who this is. It's U.S. only so it's hard to go viral, and I don't know the community [as well as the community on Youtube.] They're a very different type of audience. They don't know who we are. They come in and go, "Dancing superheroes? What the - " But that's why we're on Hulu, to get to a different audience [and expose them to a new way of presenting dance.]
We are really going over the top. Some weeks it's craziness, some weeks it's really like a normal movie, and some weeks it's abstract. And some weeks, we take ourselves way too seriously. We're not a dance crew - we call ourselves "dance adventurers," because we are throwing out a bunch of experiments. We are learning a lot. Dance hasn't really been experimental. Everybody's been so safe with dance. We're not here to be safe with dance - we're here to try a bunch of things and see if it works. The good thing is, the talent is so good, at the very least the dancing you see is things that you've never seen. We will continue to do that stuff, so it gives us a little more leeway to experiment on how we integrate it into the story.
So I have to ask: Where are the female members of the LXD? Is it kind of a boys-only club?
No, we definitely have more. You saw Pandora, she plays Autumn the nurse in "Robot Lovestory." She becomes a bigger player in the overall story. She is really awesome. You'll meet Galen [Hooks] in a couple weeks, who becomes Ninjaktu. But the truth is, our LXD girls are all in this crew called the Beat Freaks. And they went and shot America's Best Dance Crew, and did all this crazy stuff. And they got second place on it, and have been touring and doing all this stuff. So actually while we shot this, because we're not paying as much as other gigs, they were gone.
Another hard thing about our series: we don't have anybody on contract. We can't keep anyone on the clock all the time, because we have to do these things quickly. We never know when we're going to get the cameras, because we get them at a discounted price. It's like a student production. So it's a matter of timing and when the dancers can actually make it there. Sometimes our stories will adjust according to whether [someone is available.] So those girls were gone and we couldn't incorporate them. We shot some episodes with them - more in season two, but season one has a couple girls who do their thing.
So when does season two start?
Six weeks from now season one will end, and then season two will begin, I believe, two or three weeks after that. And hopefully for our international fans, we're really working hard to get it out to them in between the season one and two break so we can all be caught up.
The hard part is, to create a worldwide distribution model that's ad-based for day and date... it doesn't exist yet. So we're trying to create that. We're hoping to have an announcement by the end of this week of at least some dates in some countries. Because that's really important to us. Otherwise, I'd just release it on Youtube, but then we couldn't make any money. Already we're doing it on a shoe-string.
So finally, what's the overall message of the LXD?
It always comes down to choices. It always comes down to: You are who you are every day. You make the choice to either cut in line or not cut in line, you make that choice to write or not write today, or you make that choice to practice your dance today or not. All our characters will go through a transformation of making a choice. Some will make the wrong choice sometimes, and other times they'll make the right choice. Through all our episodes, we try give them choices as to how to live their life. Sometimes they sacrifice their own choices because they are in love with another, or they feel lonely or because they need it some other way. Those all have consequences, and we'll lay out those consequences in a dance-operatic way. [Laughs]