Project Bandaloop Straddles Different Definitions of Performance

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.

Project Bandaloop

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:

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6 Responses to Project Bandaloop Straddles Different Definitions of Performance

  1. boris willis says:

    I am with you Anna. I was so excited to see your post and read what those corporate types had to say about performance. This is one of the reasons I am in love with Apple Inc right now because they under promise and over deliver. The time of challenging the audience to understand and giving them no tools with which to understand cannot continue successfully in this day. We see it happen with technology all the time unsuccessful companies go away. Why not give the people what they want and make it good. As an audience member I am not interested in trying to understand hidden meanings and subtle suggestions about what a dance is conveying.

  2. Thanks Boris,

    I think there is an interesting line in art-making between giving the audience what they want, and being a pain in order to raise challenging issues and questions. I think that both are necessary, but I sense an imbalance in the contemporary dance world towards the latter. I’m also questioning if the challenging work many artists are making is even saying anything at all. It’s become a codified style like ballet turnout to be the biggest jerk on stage. I think there was a time and a place for that in the 60’s and 70’s when this was groundbreaking, but now it’s stale. To really shake things up, be political, take a risk, push your own boundaries first. To me that’s interesting to watch. I can take work that is discomforting and challenging, but I can’t take artistic vanity whether that is in the guise of a ballet diva or a naked man pinching his flesh for two hours on stage.

  3. Natalia says:

    I think that there are many ways to be challenging, and that there is a disconnect between the kind of challenge some dance companies are presenting and the kind of challenge that audiences find engaging.

    These analogies are kind of lame, but here goes:

    I think when the piece is deliberately obtuse and incomprehensible, it is challenging in the same way as child-proof medicine bottle tops. You want to get to the important bits inside, but you are stymied by the disfunctional packaging – i.e. you want to find out about the message the dancers are trying to convey but their communication is disfunctional.

    On the other hand, when a group clearly and genuinely presents their take on a challenging topic, it’s challenging like a crossword puzzle – the challenge *is* the enjoyment and the purpose of the activity.

    When an audience member can come away from a performance thinking, “wow, I’ve never seen that idea/situation/whatever from that perspective. I don’t know if I’m comfortable with it, but I totally just had my mind blown” That’s the good kind of challenge… When they walk away thinking, “Huh, what the hell did *that* have to do with that idea/situation/whatever?” then no one’s horizons got expanded at all.

  4. Good analogies Natalia. I think you hit the nail on the head when you said “the challenge *is* the enjoyment and the purpose of the activity.” The key concept is engagement. That’s what both the advertisers and the artists want out of their audiences. Sometimes being challenging is a way of bringing about engagement, other times showing vulnerability, virtuosity, or compelling composition and design can work to the same effect. Artists have got to engage with their audiences, and they need to make it an objective from the start of their creative process.

  5. boris willis says:

    Natalia,
    What you said is great! One of the things I find challenging with my project is the obligation versus the inspiration. There are times when something really inspires me and I often don’t know if it is “good” until I start editing. Most of the time I am posting because I have to get it done. I don’t mind this because no one has to pay to see and they can stop watching if they don’t like it. In many ways I am my own target audience and I understand very well what I am doing and saying. I wonder if other dance artists feel/do the same thing. Ultimately I want to share these but only the best ones. I am knowingly creating a lot of “crap” but I know this. I feel that I have to keep making stuff and when I need to, hopfully I have the skill to good work. Also people tell me which ones they like although I rarely hear when they don’t like a piece.

  6. Boris,
    I can relate to the feeling of not knowing what your going to make sometimes, let alone if it will be palatable to an audience. I think that art-making is often a messy process at first, and it’s important to let the work reveal itself to you. So how do we communicate to audiences when we don’t know what the work is yet? Your process of making a dance video every day and putting it up is communicating something to your audiences already by itself. They know that these are quick pieces that are made on the fly and are mostly exploratory. You have made your process very clear. And the people that like that kind of work are going to keep coming back. Also, because you’re comfortable with it, you are creating a transparent story that allows your audience to see how you are evolving and changing as an artist. They can see differences in approach and quality in your work from even a few months ago. So, I don’t think that communication only happens in highly polished “finished” work. I think it’s about the artist’s generosity and clarity of intent more than anything.

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