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Impact Dance and ZooNation

By Ana Abad-Carles

February 3, 2006 -- Peacock Theatre, Sadler's Wells, London

On 3 February, Breakin’ Conventions presented two of the dance groups that have grown out of the hip hop festival held annually at Sadler’s Wells. ZooNation and Impact Dance presented their pieces at the Peacock Theatre in what was called “explosive hip hop dance theatre”. Credit must be given to the efforts of those in charge of Breakin’ Conventions for allowing the talent glimpsed at the festival to develop and for providing them with a platform to showcase their pieces.

The first act was put on by ZooNation and their “Into the Hood” is based on Sondheim’s musical “Into the Woods“. The piece was a joy to watch. The choreographer, Kate Prince, gave the dancers the possibility to explore not only their dance form, but also its possibilities within a theatrical context. The story worked wonderfully thanks to the hilarious renditions of characters that seemed to be enjoying every minute each had on stage. The result was a hilarious, inventive, in many aspects ground-breaking dance that managed to break down barriers and preconceptions of what hip hop as a dance form has to offer. The group choreography and solos managed to gain momentum and shock the audience once and again through refreshing tongue-in-cheek humour.

It would be difficult to single out any of the dancers, as they all gave their best on the stage. But, just for the sake of acknowledging outstanding talent, I would definitely mention Teneisha Bonner, whose Spinderella was brilliant both technically and in character. She is a beautiful dancer whose lines were effortlessly clear, and her use of dynamics showed a careful sense of nuance and contrast. Her cast companions – stepmother (Shaun Niles) and stepsisters (Jeffrey Felicisimo and Bradley Charles)  – were so funny in their pink wigs and high heeled shoes that they brought the house down whenever they appeared on the stage. Roger Davies as the Prince was simply hilarious. The way he managed to make the audience laugh at his every entrance – with that glorious leitmotif provided by Prince’s music “you don’t have to be beautiful” – was simply magnificent. And so for the rest of the characters, really. They all pulled the show through with such conviction and technical accomplishment that it was hard to believe that these youngsters are not professional dancers. The clever use of the stage and props, in all its simplicity brought a freshness to the piece that was both welcome and highly enjoyable.

My only criticism would be the length of the piece. Fifteen minutes shorter and the timing would have been just perfect. Also, the fragmentation of the music got a little bit tiring to the ears, but it needs to be said that to the younger generation it did not seem to matter at all!

After such a great start, I was really looking forward to seeing Impact Dance, whom I had seen perform at Breakin’ Conventions last spring. At that time, I thought the piece they presented was highly theatrical and very innovative. Unfortunately, the development of the work into a whole, much longer piece has not improved the original rendering. Hakeem Onibudo, the choreographer, seemed to be a little too pretentious in his take of his “Underworld”, a fight between Werewolves and Vampires. Thus, the piece became a Matrix-meets-Mad Max that was hard to take seriously. Unfortunately, Onibudo obviously wanted his piece to be taken seriously. Perhaps this work should have acted as the opener of the programme. Then, the expectations would not have been so high. However, after ZooNation’s piece, “Underworld” fell flat. Not even the choreography was as highly inventive as it could have been, and it was not until the very end that the audience got the hip hop routines that they were obviously waiting for.

The seriousness of the characters and the story also played against the dancers who did not have the weight to carry them through. There were ideas that could have been developed in a much broader way, like the use of aerials with ropes. Yet, they were used and abandoned without making full virtue of what they might add to the spectacle.

Overall, the evening provided very good and well deserved performances. One can only wish that these dancers can find the way to carry on with their careers. What this show managed to do is to actually explore – with more or less success – new areas of dance expression, and that is something that the art form badly needs.

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