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November 2004

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Juilliard Dance

Published: November 15, 2004
Category: review

Dancing the History of Hip-Hop

By Rachel Straus

Hip-hop hit Broadway cement over 30 years ago, but it didn’t make it inside one of its theaters – as entirely its own show – until now. In Rennie Harris’ Legends of Hip-Hop, the originators of popping, locking and electric boogaloo celebrate, with a cadre of younger acolytes, the moves that revolutionized dance. Throughout the 90-minute performance at The New Victory Theater, no Mariah Carey pushes these dancers into the corners. No Madonna rips off their movement and waters id down, calling it vogueing.

This is unfiltered hip-hop dancing at its most expansive and proud.

Legends doubles as an informal history lesson, especially for those who thought that hip-hop appeared one day in the 1980s only to show up again in suburban dance studios some 15 years later. The concept for the show evolved from workshops organized by Rennie Harris, who invited his mentors – Sam Solomon and Don Campbell among others – to contribute choreography.

Legends builds on the success of Rome and Jewels, hip-hop’s first evening -length narrative work, loosely based on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, which brought Mr. Harris international acclaim in 2000.

Legends revisits hip-hop’s seminal street-dance moments, where intense competition between rival gangs pushed the boundaries of human physicality. In one set, a Rock Steady Crew dancer spins off of one hand like a Lazy Susan in warp speed and then starts popping up from the ground like a fish out of water. It’s flabbergasting. But then another Crew dancer tops it when he bends backward to grab his ankles, making multiple flips with his head between his feet. Above the dancers on stage, DJ Razor Ramon scratches rhythms with his back and then his nose, something not to be tried at home.

As the curator of Legends, Mr. Harris focuses on hip-hop’s artistic breadth, international reach, and its innovators. Don Campbell, originator of locking, and Sam Solomon, creator of popping and the electric boogaloo, strutting across the stage and out of obscurity. Their differing styles, steps and vastly different looks couldn’t be confused for one another.

While Mr. Solomon’s quartet, the Electric Boogaloos, plays loose, slinky footwork against electric shock muscular freezes, Mr. Campbell’s locking steps, performed by the Tokyo City Lockers, resemble jack-in- the-boxes, who jump and collapse onto the floor with uncanny ease. The Boogaloos, outfitted in white pinstriped suits, also share little with Mr. Campbell’s look – think Ronald McDonald crossed with the bowler- hatted boys of “Clockwork Orange.”

With a cast stretching from the Bronx to Tokyo, Legends underlines hip- hop’s geographic scope. Half the performers are female. Lady Jules, an acknowledged champion of the fast-stepping b-boy style, dominates the first act with her rip-roaring hip thrusts and lightening quick footwork. Other standouts include beat boxer Anointed S, whose microphone and mile-a-minute mouth transform him into a human drum, rivaling the acoustic force of a Madison Square Garden rock concert.

The show’s lessons come together fully through a series of video segments, projected onto four hanging panels, of the original hip-hop dancers. In one cut from the television show “Soul Train,” Mr. Campbell and his lockers twitch, freeze and release their muscles, appearing like short -circuiting robots.

Legends falls flat in only one respect. In makes hip-hop seem far too sweet. The fight moves at the end of the evening, for example, look playful rather than threatening. In the original music by Suga Pop, Darrin M. Ross and Kenny Muhammad, not one obscenity is heard. The niceness of Legends reflects The New Victory’s mission to provide enlightened children’s entertainment. Regardless, the show’s impact comes from seeing the heavies of this dance form finally acknowledged as major forces, as legends of hip-hop.

Copyright 2004 The New York Sun


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