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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Danceworks Ignites a Hip-Hop Experience

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The pleasure of Ignite: A Hip Hop Dance Experience, the first of three concerts in the Danceworks DanceLAB series that started last weekend, lay above all in seeing so many male and female dancers of all ethnicities and body types make themselves memorably endearing. The audience at the Danceworks Studio Theatre responded wholeheartedly, calling out dancers’ names and cheering for each act in the well-structured 90-minute program.

The show was entirely upbeat. A possible theme: Pain, anger and humiliation provide occasions for greatness. Ideal scenarios were portrayed: transcendence through play of life’s daily grind; the recovery of self-confidence after personal rejection; triumph over loneliness; friendship; the ability to laugh at oneself; and, in several thrilling dances, women’s equality. Even in pure dance moments, the extreme physicality, speed and gasp-inducing rhythmic combinations of the style speak of freedom and self-control. When it takes on the character of showing off, it’s never cloying, since it’s clearly meant to entertain the pants off us.

The spirit of community was so strong it seems wrong to single out performances; and I don’t have space. Age and experience count: What a pleasure to watch the creamy execution by seasoned performers of hip-hop’s high-speed articulations of muscles and joints. The younger artists were charmingly transparent with a real flair for comedy and drama. As a populist art, hip-hop is naturally democratic but it’s sometimes marred by stereotypes, especially regarding gender roles. Here sexist images were mocked. The overt politics of the feminist dances were delivered with infectious joy. It was a very smart show.

Hip-hop is contemporary dance. These numbers could work in a current Broadway, movie or television musical. The program included formal hip-hop traditions and some interesting efforts to expand them, sometimes with modern dance or ballet structures. There was a lovely moment at the end of DeMar Walker’s breezy solo when he lightly sang and finger-popped his own accompaniment. Although I enjoyed the show’s music, I sometimes wondered what a dance would look like unaccompanied by songs that drape it in their own messages. Some of these artists, I think, are exploring such possibilities.

This weekend Danceworks DanceLAB presents Art to Art. Danceworks on Tap follows on Aug. 8-9.