A: the third dimension. A movie released this weekend, "Step Up 3D," is one such experiment, and NPR's Elizabeth Blair has been asking if this will be the next big thing in dance.
ELIZABETH BLAIR: As a story, "Step Up 3D" is pretty lame. But the dance is pretty astounding. The plot, if you can call it that, centers around a big hip- hop break-dance competition. In one face-off, a crew dances in about an inch of water. Limbs are popping and locking. Bodies are falling and rolling, and splashing water just adds to the intensity. You do feel like you're there. I thought I was gonna get wet.
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JON CHU: It's not just a gimmick. If you use 3D right, there's residue that is emotional about it.
BLAIR: Jon Chu directed "Step Up 3D." Chu has been dancing and making movies since he was a kid. He directed the first "Step Up" movie, which was a surprise hit for Disney a few years ago. But he'd never done 3D before.
CHU: As much as, you know, research I did and how many lectures I went to - how many whatever - you really don't know 3D until you're in front of it and playing with it.
BLAIR: Now "Step Up" is not a movie about ballet or even modern dance. It's hip-hop, and in that world, the faster the better. But that was a problem for filming in 3D.
CHU: And so when I tell them, like, can you guys slow down a bit - because when it goes too fast, my eyes can't keep up with it in 3D, they didn't understand that.
So I was like, well, everyone put on 3D glasses. This is what we did in a test. And I said, OK, just freestyle to the music, and I'm going to turn around the monitor. So I turned the monitor around so they could see themselves in 3D. And within 10 minutes of them just playing around, they understood it right away.
SARAH CROMPTON: I can't weigh up whether 3D is just a craze or whether it really is going to change culture.
BLAIR: Sarah Crompton is arts editor-in-chief and dance critic for The Daily Telegraph in the UK. The big dance movie in theaters across Europe right now is called "Street Dance 3D."
CROMPTON: Well, I thought it was enormous fun. I thought it had great energy, and arguably, I think, the 3D-ness of it increases that energy because you do have a sense this is vigorous activity unfolding before your eyes. So I enjoyed it. But I thought, actually, what it suffered from is what most dance films - whether in 3D or not - suffer from, which is complete lack of plot.
BLAIR: In other words, it's a lot like "Step Up 3D."
Now, break dancers aren't the only ones trying to add dimension to their films. Director Wim Wenders is working on a 3D movie about the late choreographer Pina Bausch. And the English National Ballet is working on a film that will air on a 3D TV channel that launches in the UK in the fall. Sarah Crompton saw five minutes of it, a performance of Swan Lake.
CROMPTON: You had these vistas of dancers where you had swans coming towards you, if you like, and legs coming towards you and arms coming towards you. And when the (unintelligible) ballet ran off, they run toward you. You know, it's pretty good. You do feel that you're there, and it's quite exciting.
BLAIR: But Sarah Crompton is pretty sure these 3D dance films are nothing more than intriguing experiments, and that great dancers and great choreography is good in any format. She does think it'll make filmmakers better at capturing the beauty of movement itself. "Step Up 3D" director Jon Chu agrees.
CHU: Every rule that, you know, they say about 3D, we threw out the window with dance, because it's just about motion. It's just about weight. It's just about creating poetry with your body. And the 3D gets you to be there with them.
BLAIR: Just don't go expecting much of a story.
Elizabeth Blair, NPR News.
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