A Literacy of the Imagination

a deeper look at innovation through the lenses of media, technology, venture investment and hyperculture

Modern Dance: Connecting People & Media Through Cultural Nodes #anthropology #remediation #transmedia #art #storytelling

A couple of posts back I talked a little bit about how storytelling practices are evolving through things like remediation, which is essentially the idea that visual media achieve their cultural significance precisely by paying homage to, rivaling, and refashioning expressions of other media, such as performance art.

One of the most fascinating things I’ve found in experiencing different types of performance art – such as modern dance – is the presence of coordinated movement, along with associated story, that transcends the mediums or disciplines themselves; think of this as a kind of narrative orchestra.

While remediation has more of a focus on historical renditions of story - remixes, if you will - orchestration resides in the notion that new stories emerge out of the patterns we see in the art we experience, as well as the interpretations and mythologies conveyed through hybrid disciplines. (Some folks refer to this as immediation.)

So, imagine that line dancing, Irish jigging, 2-stepping, ballet, break dancing and tribal dance would play coordinated roles in a new type of narrative thread that would show a clear path between predefined heritage, as well as provide the ability to cut through cultural mores or ethnic boundaries.

Starting with modern street dance, we can see a distinct parallel between forms of traditional and contemporary ballet and the more raw, explosive forms of early tribal dance. Here is a performance from a “jig troupe” I captured while walking along the promenade near my home in Santa Monica.

Identifying a bridge between broader balletic movements and newer forms of tribal dance, here we see an interesting adaptation of the pirouette.

Here we find a direct bridge between ballet and hip-hop; this piece is actually a precursor to the wildly popular movie “Save the Last Dance”. Note how hand, foot and overall body movement evolve through this performance to tell the story of an interaction between a man and a woman.

Here we see a ballet troupe performing a version of “the tap” that refines the subtleties of foot movement to accentuate a new adaptation – this time with electronica.

Circling back to the pair, we see just about all of the movements from the other pieces represented in this competitive 2-step performance.

Now that we can paint a fairly coordinated backdrop for a narrative, we have an opportunity to explore a story between a young man and a young woman from seemingly different worlds, who connect through a profound love for music and dance. (This is a spec commercial I wrote & directed back in 2004.)

What’s important to embrace here are all the storytelling possibilities: from histories, to bloodlines, to artistic disciplines, to media types.

It is not inconceivable that had the creators of “Save the Last Dance” drawn these dimensions out in far more detail through the use of coordinated media (such as what we might find though a transmedia storytelling construct), they would have not only seen greater success at the box office and been able to develop multiple sequels, prequels, serializations or games (they produced one sequel and a Playstation game with marginal success), but they would have also been able to change perceptions around things like race relations on a much larger scale.

This also has huge implications on the notion of branded content in that it takes us beyond a mere marketing proposition: we can feature products and services through stories extracted or emergent in culture that are entirely relevant to the use of those products and services and their impact on society as a whole (consumption behavior, for example, would be one affected dimension of this).

Granted, many stories can be told simply for the sake of telling them and to contextualize our notions of the human condition. However, there are also huge opportunities to improve commercial media properties with this way of thinking.   

Now think: how would you authentically create a coordinated media experience for “Save the Last Dance” or a consumer brand (or both)?