Dance and Advertising – Conversation with a Cyborg, Aaron Cash
Displaying a level of sophistication far surpassing most typical spots on television, advertisements featuring dancers have taken on an almost cinematic quality and flair. One cannot help but witness Johnnie Walker’s “Human” spot and not fall prey to its sweeping beauty and lush landscapes. Despite being makers of a worldclass Scotch whiskey, this campaign was not only about the actual product – it was also about creating a groundbreaking visual experience. Utilizing the talents of Mr. Aaron Cash, an Australian dancer and actor playing an android in the not-so-distant future, Johnnie Walker created a poignant vision for its product.
“I am faster than you, stronger than you. Certainly I will last much longer than you. You may think that I am the future. But you’re wrong. You are. If I had a wish, I wish to be human.” The irony of having a dancer speak these words as an indestructible machine is brilliant. However, this was not the original intention of the casting directors.
“It was this simply incredible, beautiful monologue,” Mr. Cash remembers. “And I auditioned in London, New York and LA against about 400 guys, mostly models. They weren’t sure what they wanted but I ended up getting the gig although they didn’t know I was a dancer at first. It turned out to be an essential bonus for them because the CGI work as the android required a lot of reference points, and if you have someone who knows their body very well, it really helps a lot.”
However, the performer did not always personally embrace dance. Despite now educating young artists at the American Dance Projekt studios based in North Carolina, Mr. Cash was reluctant to explore his full range of talents. “My breakthrough … you know, all my life I said I was never a dancer. I treated it as a bastard child. I was an actor and a singer and everything else, but I never labeled myself a dancer. But then I embraced the fact that my core as an artist was as a dancer. I realized that how I viewed the world was through dance. And that’s when all the doors finally opened for me.”
After working with iconic performers like Twyla Tharp, Mikhail Baryshnikov and Cher, Mr. Cash has reached a point in his illustrious career where he is extremely sought after. The recent Johnnie Walker campaign has led him to the development of a wide-range of television pilots and film work. It seems that although he might not be an immortal android, his career is far from its expiration. “I love that dance is so au courant right now. The new generation of dancers like Danny Tidwell and Travis Wall are taking it another step further. Each generation takes it another step further. I can’t do what these kids are doing now. I’m 38, I’m on the back end of my dance career. But it’s inspiring to watch people’s passions develop and take it to the next level.”
Taking a cue from the past success of their “Khakis Swing” ad campaign of the late 90’s, Gap, Inc. recently infused movement and celebrity into their “Boyfriend’s Trousers” commercial. Utilizing the talent and appeal of Claire Danes and Patrick Wilson, the clothing company turned what could have been a static retail spot into a witty, tongue-in-cheek use of bodies in motion. The company, tarnished by declining sales and a fading public image, realizes that the intrinsic appeal of dance can help bring to life the Gap’s relevance and sustainability in our collective consciousness.
Obviously, it is simply not enough anymore to stand in front of a camera and hawk your latest product. Even major celebrity endorsements (once a vital and almost necessary way to sell products) have proven to be stale and formulaic. Now dancers have become a go-to talent because of the many forms they’re able to create due to their expansive minds and bodies. Hyundai and Pilobolus recently teamed up for a fascinating tour-de- force exploring the human body and the numerous shapes and structures it can form. Beginning as an unidentifiable mound of bodies, the talented Pilobolus dancers seamlessly create a music-hall scenario, the sparking embers of a campfire, and 2 00 8 finally the Hyundai Santa fe – culminating in the vibrating tagline “flexible, agile, for whatever shape life takes.” Acknowledging the public’s fatigue of the old car on the road scenario, the ad and tagline is an impeccable depiction of the car itself and an impressive example of the power of dance. The subsequent success of the “Life Shapes” campaign raised further public awareness of the legendary dance company. Shortly after appearing in the ads, Pilobolus displayed their immense talents on the Ellen DeGeneres Show and the 79th Annual Academy Awards in 2007, proving that dance as a visual art has found a renewed relevance in new and exciting arenas.
Other experimental dance companies are being called upon for their possible translation into the commercial world. Puma recently partnered with Tony Award-winning New York dance troupe Bill T. Jones/Arnie zane Dance Company for their Urban Mobility Collection. The print campaign (named “I’m Going”) captures snapshots in time imbued with the energy and elegance that only a dancer could personify. In another spot, the kinetic energy of breakdancing was used by Visa to embody the flexibility of their check card. Set in a futuristic urban convenience store, the kids are brought to a stand-still the moment a checkbook is taken out and toiled over, only to burst into motion once the card returns.
As the fickle tastes of mainstream society shift and ebb, and interest in dance continues to rise, dancers are no longer relegated to perform backup in an MTV video or overshadowed by the leads that they are supporting. Dancers are finally being sought after for their innumerable talents and receiving the attention, acclaim and respect in the industry that they deserve. Perhaps this is only a fad and interest in dance, despite being one of the oldest art forms in history, will fade. But as long as the talent is razor-sharp and ever-present, dancers will continue to be used in print, television, and internet advertising for decades to come. Gone are the days of the static housewife simply holding up her cleaning products and beauty remedies and blankly telling us about them – dancers are ready to kick through the screen to show us what movement is all about.