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panta rei dans lullaby

Video - Panta Rei Danseteater 'Lullaby'

Norwegian dance company Panta Rei Danseteater, late last year, conducted a little experiment whereby three dance makers created two pieces with the same name based on the same idea, featuring three male dancers and two musicians, to see what the outcome was.

June 2nd, 2016

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by Martin French

There is a pervasive trend emerging in dance when it comes to promotional videos for new touring work. A trend that is moving toward incoherent, jump-cut, cinematic like trailers. What works for films must work for dance, right? Not so fast there dear readers.

Jump cutting does have some, very limited, uses but trailers for feature films are cut together the way they are for a very specific purpose.

First of all, depending on the kind of film being promoted, they will only show very specific parts of the film for a myriad of promotionally motivated reasons.

Ostensibly the point is to give you, the potential purchaser of a ticket, some insight into the story. This insight has to be delivered in a very short period of time because trailers, more often than not, are targeted at the television market and television advertising is very very expensive.

The longer the trailer, the more money it costs to show.

If you take a look at the trailer (above) for the upcoming alien invasion movie 'Battle : Los Angeles' the emphasis is placed on building tension and highlighting the impeding fight and the struggles of the "brave soldiers" and a few regular folk. They're the ones that aren't wearing military uniforms.

We imagine, here in TheLab™, that were an alien invasion to occur in reality it almost certainly would be a fairly tense affair for all concerned. The rapidly cutting images, the sections of black, the clean type, grainy, fake news footage and the weird music rising to what sounds like a scream for help, all serve to play up the movies action based credentials.

What you might not notice however about that trailer is the complete lack of dialogue from any of the characters. Such films are not about soaring oratory so the emphasis is placed on action, fear and struggle. Good guys vs bad guys and the preservation of humanity, etc. Placing a few dozen explosions in there also helps, especially with younger males.

Not Stupid

So, sometimes a trailer is trying to tell you the plot, often times however what they are trying to do is hide the fact that the film you are considering paying real money to watch is complete rubbish.

'The Last Airbender', directed by the impossibly monikered M. Night Shyamalan, is one such example.

It's easy to think that the studio that bank rolled this particular film, Paramount, to the tune of $150Million had little or no idea that the film was a complete turkey in every respect.

If you watch the complete film first and then the trailer you will quickly realise that they knew exactly how bad the film was. They're human beings, they go to the movies just like the rest of us.

Again, the emphasis in the 'Airbender' trailer is placed on visuals rather than any of the acting or dialogue.

The reason for this is that the acting and the writing is terrible. Most of the character dialogue is nothing more than exposition and awkward stage direction. This is unfortunate because the story they are trying to tell is fairly complex so it needs a lot of dialogue to explain it all.

The studio realise they can't sell the movie on the dialogue so they have to try and sell it on the action, the visual-fx and the martial arts. Sticking the best bits of a film into the trailer is an ancient tactic that, surprisingly, still works, sort of.

According to the Box Office Mojo website, the trick didn't really work all that well for this film. 'Airbender' managed a worldwide gross of $320Million. If you take into account production costs and world-wide distribution and marketing then you have a fairly comprehensive flop on your hands.

Finding precise numbers is hard but one estimate is that only 5% of movies made ever make a profit for the people who financed the film. Scary numbers and an illustration that a lot of their sales tactics don't actually work very well.

No Narrative

So why do these tricks really not work for a live dance show?

First of all most dance has no narrative to speak of. There is no story, no "man, a woman and a nuclear bomb" that they have just 90 minutes to defuse. Dramatic tension is hard to do with with well written dialogue never mind a 90 second jump-cut deconstruction of a complex dance work.

Live dance work doesn't have the visuals either. There are no swooping camera shots, no car chases, no explosions, no dramatic location shots, no super slo-mo gun fights and no giant blue aliens babbling on about their special tree of life or whatnot.

More importantly though the devices used in film trailers are tricks, and why would you want to trick you audience? Also, what if your potential audience is onto your tricks, trying to show the best bits, etc, and they're not buying it, or your tickets for that matter?

Take it Slow

Getting people interested in coming to your show is a more complex matter than simply hitting them with 90 seconds of visuals.

How about you try to get them interested in your company and what you're doing before you try to sell them relatively expensive tickets?

Let people get to know you before you ask them for money. Dance isn't a "fast food" business, it's a complex art form and you shouldn't be apologising for that.

In contemporary dance the work a company creates and performs is intrinsically linked to the personality of that company and to the dance makers that create the work. The dancers are, more often than not, intimately involved with that creation of the work and they are certainly intimately involved with the performance of that work.

How do you bring this across to people? Interviews dear readers, interviews. If you want people to learn about your work then you have to talk about your work, no excuses.

Cut those interviews together with substantive, in context, excerpts from the work, whether in the studio or on stage, and you're starting to build a narrative.

You are asking a lot of your potential audience, so spend some time drawing them into your world, give them something back in exchange for their attention.

To the editors cutting together these jumbled up, single word out-take disasters. You don't get payed by the cut so either drink less coffee, start taking Ritalin or get some skill. Just a thought.

It's also a good idea when trying to get people to like you to use a bit of humour now and then. Cut in some outtakes or make some none-dance related videos. Nothing breaks down barriers than a bit of self-deprecation.

To quote The Joker, "why so serious?"

Getting people to watch your videos, now that's another fight entirely.

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