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Criticism Commented. Lemon Dance. Steve Ballmer's encore at Microsoft's annual company meeting in Seattle's KeyArena on September 26, 2013 (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xqmj-9XlDzY). 10218 Zeichen. online Dec 23, 2013  .html


When Steve Ballmer on August 23, 2013 announced to step down as top executive of Microsoft Corporation within 12 months he certainly had already thought about his speech at this year's company meeting scheduled a month later with an hour long video to be streamed by The Verge.

What kind of performance would the CEO choose? What kinds of foot steps on stage should the last appearance be composed of? Stage and other advisors enter the office. „Of course I will stand alone on the floor. „How should I dress?“ I will speak. I will move.“ Sure. But what would the soundscape be like? What proved always good were a few good songs to take the crowd. „O.k., and I will insert the right melody.“ The thing will be streamed, you know, for an hour. Cameras, not just for the redoubling screen, will be there. „Oh yes, I know. Lots of. I will give them a Last Waltz.“ Bingo! Steve, give them Dirty Dancing. „You mean, as I always did?“ Chuckling. „Alright, let's do it.“

But which dance will you really dance, chief?

On that late afternoon of September 26, Ballmer stepped on the stage with comfortable shoes, slightly oversize pants in a not too light and not too dark grey as well as a bright yellow T-Shirt equipped with a small black buttonhole microphone. The audience of 13,000 Microsoft full-time employees was prepared to wear white flashlight bracelets. A hall illuminated by fluorescent blue spots and armed with LED writing bands telling "Microsoft: Can't Hold Us". All this took place in Seattle's KeyArena which is used for concerts, ice shows, circus events, ice hockey and basketball games with all of these entertainment genres unimaginable not delivered as a pop musical event that forces movement on stage to be dance …

several large 16:9s on the stage functioning less like metaphorical monitor 'speakers' and more like the office furniture pieces carrying Microsoft computer devices, placed near the edges looking not unlike abstract furniture sculptures created by Donald Judd in the 1980ies. Set in the form of five Z-like ordered grey squares, this dry and slightly bizarre stage appeared between two parallel very long blue neon tubes.

(1) Ballmer enters the stage of the meeting with "Can't Hold Us", a mainstream sleeper hit by Seattle rapper Macklemore and producer Ryan Lewis assisted by singer Ray Dalton that first appeared in 2011. The song got a second chance by an expensive video possibly the most streamed song in 2013 and used in part for a commercial promoting Microsoft's Outlook.com which is to replace Hotmail service. Already this song a symbol for persistent if not immediately succesful marketing,

(2) Ballmer later on plays a song he heard at his first Microsoft company meeting in 1983, Michael Jackson's "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin" of the same year, "the sound of Microsoft", as Ballmer calls it in his speech. We remember, this was the opener of Thriller. Selecting this song Ballmer may have glimpsed at the fact that Jackson needed 19 years to arrive at his all time most selling album.

(3) This is how Ballmer introduced his dance, the last minutes of his performance on and off the stage: "My last song is one I've always wanted to use, but it was always deemed inappropriate. It's a great song – not that kind of inappropriate! And I wanted to pick a song that was exactly perfect, a song that let me say thank you, a song that looked back retrospectively, and a song that ceclebrated the future. It's from one of my favorite movies, one of my favorite songs. And I think it has all that in it. It's a song that comes at the very end of the movie. One of the actors gets up on stage and talks about kinda how he likes to do things <Ballmers should have meant Baby, but she is quiet awaiting her dance partner>. Well, I wanna end with this song, respectful, a song that talks about what you've meant to me, what you've done for me. You have made this “The Time of My Life”." Music is starting

Playing this song "(I've Had) The Time of My Life" from the finale of 1987 movie "Dirty Dancing" again was symbolic for a difficult, protracted, but succesful development of a product and career as well. The Time of My Life was originally written and sung by Frank Previte together with Rachele Capelli and used as the sound for shooting the movie's final scene. Only later for post-production, it was recorded by Bill Medley from The Righteous Brothers, then 47, and Jennifer Warnes, then 40, giving a final parent touch to a movie that in fact tells the story of a succesful parents' generation in the 1950ies and the 1960ies. Following the musical Dirty Dancing: The Classic Story on Stage in 2004 and the remake Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights in 2004, the story is performed on stage since. Dirty Dancing: the Video Game has been released in 2007. And the soundtrack album took number 1 on Billboard album charts for 18 weeks selling 39 million copies and won an Oscar for the best original song. The movie with a $ 6 million budget earned beyond $ 200 million.

The movie Dirty Dancing recounts the romance between teenager Baby played by Jennifer Grey, born 1960 (winning the 2010 U.S. Dancing with the Stars) and dance instructor Johnny played by Patrick Swayze, born 1952, both principal performers being actors and professional dancers. 1963 in a summer resort in the New York State Catskill Mountains – according to dress and styling it could well be in the 1950ies – dirty dancing means sexy, coitus like dancing (see the movie's re-release in 1997 with previously cut scenes), but also means a more or less involuntarily immoral act which remains unresolved by the movie. Johnny leaves his regular dance partner Penny who is in troubles because of a failed abortion of a child she had become pregnant with by another man and where Baby was to “help out” with money. Johnny leaves Penny in favor of his unfolding relationship with Baby. He finally seals it with the succesful lift of Baby during the final dance to the song „(I've Had) The Time of My Life“. What is Ballmer's lift?

It is noteworthy that after the rock-punk-disco extravaganza of the 1970ies which had excluded erotic style pair dancing, retro pop culture became hip together with big music industry and the emergence of post- or retro-modernist culture. Remember 1980ies' Michael Jackson, Tina Turner, Madonna and Whitney Houston all of them reviving among others African American music traditions under contemporary circumstances. This retro-production musically and economically hung of course mentally back to the 1950ies and 1960ies and was reflected by more conventional and disciplined dances incorporating the now body touch mode dances like the mambo and the merengue today still not admitted to official Latin dance competitions. Accordingly half of the dance numbers of Dirty Dancing dates back to the 1960ies, even the 1950ies (1963, 1960, 1963, 1961, 1956, 1956, 1962, 1963, 1961, 1962, 1962, 1960, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dirty_Dancing_%28soundtrack%29#20th_Anniversary_Edition). These songs were to a good part (re-)recorded by black singers as for instance back-up vocalist Merry Clayton (Rolling Stones' „Gimme Shelter“ 1969) or black girl group The Shirelles' "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow" (written in 1960 by 18 years old Carole King). Also, this connects to Hollywood's great tradition of musical film from the 1930ies to the 1950ies with the Dirty Dancing's choreographer Kenny Ortega who studied and worked with Ginger Rogers and Gene Kelly, choreographed dances of Madonna and Michael Jackson and was announced in 2011 to be the director of another remake of Dirty Dancing by Lions Gate Entertainment.

Given all this, the commercial success story of Dirty Dancing, the retro business of 1980ies pop music and the recast of popular dance forms testify to a profound as well as sentimental view back to the past. This is echoed by software company Microsoft's efforts, after the late introduction of a video game console in 2001, to further invest in electronic hardware like tablets, thin clients and mobile phones.

Still juicy, Ballmer remains the light shining for the forthcoming months until the new one will have moved into the executive suite. Ballmer's finale equals the finale of 1987 Dirty Dancing (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l9BbUqHrWFI). As the end of the movie includes not just the final blessing of Baby's father (who is as old that he could have been her grandfather) but also the audience raising from their chairs and beginning to dance, Ballmer's intention was that every employee got to be dirty but still sit orderly on his or her chair. Appropriately, selfish Ballmer's love and dance partner during his 'last' minutes on stage is a genderless multiplicity of camera. It is the four, five cameras that dance with and around him providing a narcissism he would barely have managed in youtuberty. The magnificent camera work and its live mix is shown particularly after the video's 3 minutes and 2 seconds when The Time of My Life sets in with two parts from the original song's: 0:07“Now I've had the time of my life / No I never felt like this before / Yes I swear it's the truth / And I owe it all to you / 'Cause I've had the time of my life /And I owe it all to you”0:34 and 3:14“Till I found the truth / And I owe it all to you <saxophone solo> Now I've had the time of my life / No I never felt this way before / Yes I swear it's the truth / And I owe it all to you <Ballmer shouts this line himself> / I've had the time of my life /No I never felt this way before / Yes I swear”4:24. This marks a dance that reaches its climax when Ballmer leaves the hall and enters those merciless concrete off stage areas of concert arenas that John Lennon once had wanted to preserve Yoko Ono from. Ballmer is done. He will be remembered as the yellow, casual gentleman that is pressing hard on a past to squeeze out a Microsoft that can only be good for the future. Not sweet, but effective.

 Peter Mahr 2013

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