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Danceworks DanceLAB's Ignites 'A Hip Hop Dance Experience'

Aug. 1, 2017
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Photo credit: Christal Wagner

Once again, Ignite: A Hip Hop Dance Experience, the now five-year-old annual citywide hip-hop dance showcase produced by Danceworks DanceLAB, provided dance entertainment in which equality in race, gender, ethnicity and sexual orientation was a joyous given.

Hip-hop, of course, is an African American style embraced by many minorities. White artists joined without taking it over, and everyone’s side-by-side presence onstage helped dispel any shadows of minstrel shows. Men and women dance identical movements. All bodies are hot and desire is not stereotyped. The great variety of individual performers, highly communal structures and spirited dancing are fun to watch and an ideal image of city life.

This summer’s 10-dance program started strong with the SueMo dancers. Theatrical, balletic, athletic and explosive, Morgan Williams’ “Shortline” believably dramatized the struggle of a man caught in an emotionally difficult relationship. Later in the show, Christa Smutek’s “Architect of the Mind” for SueMo’s well-trained young company, SueMo II, was another highlight. The costuming—sleeveless white tuxedo shirts with black bow ties and short shorts—had interesting references. Ten girls executed fast-paced combinations, pirouettes, leaps and gymnastics with serious mental focus and finished by grinning and wiggling their bowties.

“J.T.,” named for Justin Timberlake whose songs provided the accompaniment, featured group choreography, 17 dancers in ever-shifting combinations and the kind of creative thinking about hip-hop I’ve learned to associate with this event: an episode of straight-out tap dancing with no change in music. Gabi Sustache, gifted at both tap and hip-hop, was one of its choreographers. The recognition that sophisticated, beat-conscious hip-hop movements are a kind of tap dancing for every body part returned for me later in “Okukola Awaamu” (Working Together) by Sustache, Samantha Mesa and Joel Talemwa. The latter also presented a solo, “Kilooto” (A Dream), with some old-fashioned breakdancing.

The estimable Richard Buda Brasfield choreographed the touching finale, “MKE is Burning,” a reference to the famous film that names Paris the flaming city. Many of the evening’s artists took part, including virtuosos Clay Savage, who’d presented his own piece earlier, and Rasheeda Pannniell, another “J.T.” choreographer. Brasfield turned the stage into a ballroom where, as in the film, the characteristically oppressed execute the stylized poses and moves of high-fashion models and old Hollywood movie stars. Brasfield’s judges give everybody 10s; the dance’s black gay male central character finds a family; voguing and hip-hop save lives.


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