After decades of evolution from the streets of the Bronx to the stages of the world, hip hop is still located on the cutting edge of artistic, cultural and political expression. Whether realized through music, dance, visual art, spoken word or fashion, this populist form is celebrated for where it's been, where it's going and where it is right now. Choreographer B-boy J-Sun (Jason Noer) embraced this theme in his high-energy production "Hip Hop!" at Minneapolis' Cowles Center on Friday night.
J-Sun introduced his crew of seven dancers with "How I Met H.E.R." and each immediately established his or her unique movement personality. Dancin' Dave (Dave Marcotte), for example, showed off his stop-action popping style, while Arturo Miles and StepChild (Charles Thorstad) added a multi-dimensional kinetic harmony. Nicki Cullinan and AnnieUP (Anne Aldag) stirred up a potent mix of hard-hitting attitude and smooth flow. J-Sun, a compact dynamo with elastic limbs and fast-moving feet, underscored his dancing with a maestro's confidence (which was confirmed later by his restless-heart solo "Sherebral" performed entirely while lying on the floor).
An experimental jolt
Although the entire show needed editing and shaping (some works became repetitive), there were several highlights. "Intention" featured Saltee, the "indie, urban, organic, neo-classical hip hop groove trio" of Jacqueline Ultan, Mike Michel and Carnage, who injected an experimental jolt into the evening through a combo of cello, guitar and beat boxing. Here the dancers really dug into the live music and found innovative ways to ride the waves of unexpected rhythms. This is a collaboration that should be explored further. And "Technolojoke" showcased the poised Suga Mama (Amy Sackett) with her seamless robot-like moves in a work that riffed off the futuristic ideas that often find their way into hip hop.
Closing with a showdown
But as J-Sun told the audience, "Hip hop begins and ends with the battle." He called up Looney Tunes Crew and Optimistic Crew, the top finishers in last summer's Groundbreaker Battle. Through two rounds the groups threw down their best moves with spectacular and sometimes gravity-defying displays combining break dancing, acrobatics and a variety of freestyle forms. There was an element of healthy competitive intimidation -- the dancers kept their eyes locked on one another throughout -- but also a sense of deep camaraderie and respect. An audience vote gave Looney Tunes the win.
Caroline Palmer writes regularly about dance.