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'The Legion of Extraordinary Dancers' is ready to battle with flips, spins and dance steps

Hip-hop dancers are superheroes on the ambitious Web series, which hopes to span media forms.

July 04, 2010|By Zachary Pincus-Roth, Special to the Los Angeles Times

It's your classic western pastiche: The good guys saunter through the saloon's double doors. The bad guys put down their whiskey. The brawl begins.

But in this scene, rehearsed at Melody Ranch in Newhall a week ago, the two sides compete not with fists and guns but with flips and spins. "What if dance was actually a weapon?" asks the director, Jon M. Chu. "They can use it for good or for evil."

Chu was filming an episode of "The Legion of Extraordinary Dancers," a.k.a. "The LXD," a new Web series in which hip-hop dancers are portrayed as superheroes. It's dance crew meets "Fantastic Four" — ordinary people discover their exceptional powers and decide to join the Legion, which then faces off against mysterious enemies. But instead of specializing in firepower or invisibility, it's breaking, popping, locking, finger tutting or boogaloo.

"These guys have absolutely amazing powers — real powers, not fake superpowers," says Chu, 30, the series' creator, who also directed Disney's "Step Up 3D," which comes out in August. "You can show, in your living room, what they do."

The dancers in the cast have performed together as the LXD at venues such as the Oscars, the TED Conference and "So You Think You Can Dance." But the group's coming-out party is Wednesday, when the Web series' first season launches on Hulu, distributed by Paramount Digital Entertainment.

"The LXD," one of the most ambitious Web series attempted, is a unique fusion of dance and transmedia — an emerging Hollywood concept defined as a story told through multiple platforms (webisodes, live performance, Facebook, etc.) such that each one contributes a unique part of the narrative. Ideally, these building blocks add up to an intricate mythology that obsessed fans can piece together.

"In those live performances, they're out there as their characters and they're telling parts of our story," says Scott Ehrlich, chief executive of Agility Studios, which produces the project along with Chu and Hieu Ho. "We're now going to bring the audience up to speed in terms of what they were actually seeing."

If the series takes off, the LXD will aim to continue its story through film, television, video games, comic books and dance studios: Fans will be able to upload their own dance videos, and a council of elders will invite the best one to join the Legion.

The series capitalizes on dance's newfound popularity sparked by televised competitions such as "So You Think You Can Dance" and "America's Best Dance Crew" and dance battle movies such as the "Step Up" series and "You Got Served." The LXD emulates not only comic books but also martial arts action heroes such as Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan, who fight with a dance-like discipline and beauty.

More obscure precursors include the Japanese anime series "Princess Tutu," about a ballerina with magical ballet moves, and Marvel's character the Dazzler, a singer who can harness the power of music. Ehrlich finds business inspiration in the multiplatform World Wrestling Entertainment, where he was once a public relations consultant.

But perhaps the closest cousin is the Fox series "Glee," which invited the LXD to be the opening act in its recent concert tour. Both take classic media — show choir and dance — and recontextualize them for a contemporary audience. Both focus on misfits who eschew more popular high school pursuits such as football and drinking Coors Light while upside down. "There definitely are a lot of correlations," says Harry Shum Jr., who plays Mike Chang in "Glee" and performs in and co-choreographs for the LXD. "It's rooting for the underdogs."

"The LXD would have a much tougher time without 'Glee,' " adds Jeff Gomez, a transmedia producer who has helped build the universes for "Avatar" and "Pirates of the Caribbean," among others. "Spiritually, symbolically and basically in reality, there is a direct connection between the two that opens a mass audience to the possibilities presented to the story worlds of the LXD."

The LXD started with a voicemail from Miley Cyrus. In 2008, Chu recalls, she complimented the dancer Adam Sevani on his work in Chu's film "Step Up 2: The Streets" and then hung up.

Sevani and Chu responded by challenging Miley and her friends to a dance battle. Miley's M&M Cru took on the Adam/Chu Dance Crew, a.k.a. ACDC, in a series of online videos that roped in celebrities such as Lindsay Lohan and Adam Sandler and generated 45 million views.

Chu's crew started with the "Step Up 2" cast, who then introduced him to more dancers at underground jams in the Los Angeles area. "Because I can roll with our dancers, I can go," Chu says, "but they were a little scary, I'm not going to lie." They now go to places like Boulevard3, Avalon Hollywood or the back of Bar Lubitsch.

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