I’m taking a class in Media Economics at the New School, and while doing research on online advertising, I came across an ad campaign by ValueClick Media called “The Performance Interviews.” As a videodancemaker I immediately noticed their banner ad, which contained a small video depicting a Bay Area aerial dance group called Project Bandaloop. The video was eye-catching and compelling, but what struck me as strange was that interspersed with the dance footage were marketing consultants talking about what “performance” means to them.
I watched several of the interviews on the ValueClick site, and in light of my recent posts about my frustrations with experimental dance, I started interpreting what these marketers were saying about performance as advice to dance artists. For them, performance means conveying information to the client and exceeding the client’s expectations. In their cases the clients are businesses trying to reach a target market of consumers. As a dancer I interpreted “clients” as my funders and presenters, and the “target market of consumers” as my viewing audience. Here are some notable quotes from the interviews on the ValueClick Media website:
“The definition of advertising is inform, persuade, and remind…Perform means I under-promise and over-deliver.”
– John Durham, CEO of Catalyst
“Performance in both business and life requires focusing on an objective, establishing a benchmark, creating an ideal, and then working toward that objective.”
– Craig Petz, VP of Marketing, taxbrain.com
“Performance is execution, it’s delivery…People need to learn to start performing together better. I think in the U.S. particularly we’ve lost our way in performing together…I think the Sixties was a decade of high performance. People got off their butts and made things happen together.”
-Lori Schwartz, SVP Director of Emerging Media, Interpublic Emerging Media Lab
To an experimental contemporary dance artist’s ears these words sound so arcane and old fashioned. After all in post-modernism and everything since then, the objective has been to obliterate the expectations of the audience. It’s not about delivering anything, instead the work is supposed to break down and foil the audience’s preconceived notions of what might happen. In Jerome Bel’s show at DTW this past week (which I didn’t attend, but I heard many recountings of) he said just this in a reply to a question from his co-interviewer, the traditional Thai dancer Pichet Klunchun:
“Bel explains, he is a ‘contemporary’ artist — this means not ballet, not Swan Lake, not the Nutcracker. ‘Contemporary’ means there can be no expectations, no preconceived notions. It’s in the present.”
– From Tonya Plank’s review “Mesmerizing Traditional Thai Dance Versus Dumb White People Tricks” on Swan Lake Samba Girl.
My question is, if we have moved so far from the marketing model of performance that our main objective is to obliterate all the expections of our audiences, does that mean we have killed performance? Are we at the end of a frayed rope in terms of new frontiers for this art form? Perhaps this is an ontological question that I don’t have the know-how to answer, but I certainly feel like I’ve come to the end of the sidewalk on this path.
I found the ValueClick interviews on performance to be quite intriguing. The irony is that an online ad company used a contemporary experimental dance company as the visual face of their campaign to tout the high performance potential of web marketing. Given the proliferation of advertisements that use dance (see Maria’s post “Dance in Advertising” from A Time to Dance for a nice selection of these), it seems that marketers know that dance is a valuable vehicle to deliver the goods to their clients. So, why don’t we see that for ourselves?
Project Bandaloop, Anaheim Ballet, Misnomer Dance, Great Dance and all the dance bloggers out there see that dance is extremely valuable in the digital age. Now it’s my goal to help the rest of the dance world to see it too.
Here’s another video by Project Bandaloop for more aerial artistry: