I've moved this review and consideration of the dance form by Thea from another forum:
WATCHING FORM AND CONTENT
By THEA NERISSA BARNES
I saw Bounce in August at Sadlers Wells and November at Wimbledon Theatre. Before this I have seen Rennie Harris’ Puremovement jam in New York’s Central Park and their production “Rome and Jewels” here in London. I have also seen Jonzi D’s “Us Must Trust Us” performed by Phoenix in 2001 and each rebirth of “Aeroplane Man”, Benji Reed’s poignant full body gesticulations that set his standard of body lock and body popping, Kwesi Johnson’s Kompani Malakhi, Robert Hylton Urban Classicism and other creative individuals that shape my perspective and expectations of hip-hop. I left the performance of Bounce reflecting on the progression which all these artists are pushing hip-hop. To be simplistic, it boils down to a binary: form or content, prophet or pusher, delivering a message or selling a product. Every dance presents choices and these choices are the result of both taste and necessity. Each observation of a performance reveals a cultural/political dimension and situates. The Bounce presentation poses alternative choices. These choices present an altered cultural approach and different bodily narratives. Following is a description of that alteration for present and future reflection but more likely a comparison of today’s approaches to re-invention.
I see hip hop as more than scratching records and lighting quick rhymes, double time bouncing steps that drop into swaggered walks, spinning on your head and police lights. Whether poignant or gangster rap, prostitution or delivering a message, hip-hop is about craft and creativity. Hip-hop is an art practice about synthesizing and invention. The effort is on discovering another dimension. Hip-hop is more than mimetic manipulations that dissolve into revolving door movement expressions. As jazz has its dimensions of improvisation, within hip-hop you either improvise within one vocabulary or you push your way out of one vocabulary to mesh into a new one; you seek to redefine, to make new. This is not to say that one creative process is better than the other for both have their place in this global dance community we practice in today. In this landscape no one owns an idea once it goes public and ideas owe nothing to heritage, ethnicity, or politics. Eventually all ideas get synthesized or regurgitated then redefined.
I write of the transliteration of hip-hop in Bounce that offers an ensemble element and an extra bodily narrative that is female. The hip-hop style in Bounce is slick and clean where the guys and girls move as an ensemble; all are neutered for this group action that is so tight there’s slight indication of individual expression. Spacial arrangement re-shapes performance skill confining moves that if not under control would do bodily harm. Each kick the same height, staccato punches the same distance from the chest, all ripples an exact degree, flick heads, quick looks, slides and drops to floor the same inflection. Few of these dancers may have been inspired in the street but all have shaped their craft in the studio. They are veterans of performing arts schools like Brit Performing Arts and Technology College, London Studio Centre, and Urdang. They rehearse or teach class at Pineapple or choreograph for videos, youth groups or trade shows. Only two, DJ Hazze and Hatim Kamel have acquired their craft from the street. The other performers may have had introductions in the streets but their skills were honed in the studio. No process to theatricalise idiosyncratic cultural tendencies here. Theatre is the culture that this rendition of hip-hop stems from. Bounce is also directed and it is this that speaks of its presentation, a transformation of art practice removed and redefined to suit a single vision. Streetdance, the midstream label for a genre of movement where hip-hop can be listed, is the dance community’s rough diamond. To demonstrate its lineage DJ Hazze raps a brief history lesson and within the presentation skits of lindy hop, a Cab Calaway zoo suited jazz number, and 70’s cliché are snapped out but these ensemble numbers are superficial. In this presentation, the diamond is buffed but not split, the presentation a simple entertainment. In Bounce the propensity of the form to transform or transcend is corralled and bridled. I can fathom the performers had input in the creation of Bounce because the program reads “devised and choreographed” by the company. But the director’s refinement for the international stage is a thorough process and curtails opposition. What is left out in this transfer from street to studio, from studio to stage, from male to female? Hip-hop, lindy hop or maleness portrayed in a zoo suit, displays an attitude; a bodily narrative that speaks of endurance in an often hostile environment. Before hip-hop became commodity, movement was defence. Movement was a warning or demonstration of strength becoming an opportunity to transcend, synthesize or empathise. The emphasis was on de-flat the opposition and/or re-create because the status quo was not bearable. There is a strong “I am” and “I exist” more so than “look at me I can do this”. To move was an opportunity to face a metaphorical enemy head on; an enemy that sought to destroy the substance that made a person who she or he is. To move was the chance for metamorphoses and to change the odds. So to theatricalise is an opportunity, an extension of the propensity of movement to turn things around. In Bounce the result is a crossover that sidesteps cultures and mixes up sensibilities. What is gained is precision, what is lost is the inner stuff that makes hip-hop special in the first place. Bounce is good and its presentation will stand as another adaptation of what us stalwarts recognise as the real thing. For most though, Bounce will become the accepted norm. This norm though is a fluffed parody, its consummation a quick drink downed easy that only wets the lips of those who want more than 2 or 3 moving visuals of selected events in the history of the last and possibly next millennium’s dance phenomenon book ended with clean dance numbers.
The essentials of hip-hop aesthetic are deejaying, break-dancing, emceeing and graffiti. Bounce has this but it is about form rather than content. There is nothing wrong in this just a matter of choice. When the girls took the stage body pop and lock shifted to body waves, hip swings and spinal swerves and although still retaining some of the dynamics of the opening and closing dance numbers this dimension oozed female sexual ness. Supported with a lyrical-like feel in the music this female ness was tamed and slithered as opposed to the breast bone popping with leg antics I have seen other female hip hop women do. These girls also did not have the opportunity to show what else each could do individually. Their improvised solos at the end wavered between slick or stilted, some being even timid and lacked the dare-factor “THIS IS ME!” “GIT TO THIS!!” or even “---- YOU!” element that is a survival trait, an indicative root of hip hop’s origins from the street. This is where Bounce let me down because improvisation is an important ingredient for discovering something different in the movement, in “you”. Improvisation is supposed to be spontaneous and contain a prerequisite amount of overt confidence not self-consciousness. Improvisation emphasises is on stupefying or besting and this goes pass proving mastery of a set movement phrase. When the guys took the stage only the usual was on offer leading me to think this presentation was the result of rigorous rehearsal or issues of safety being the target not pushing the form.
What was I expecting I had to ask myself? I remember rapping and break dance of the 70’s, the physical ness so characteristic of the form. This genre was and still is inspiring because one has to wonder at the eagerness to transform, to take what is truly yours, your legs arms torso and head, and do those magical things. I retain a visual that I savour because its representation of transformation was so complete. I saw Rennie Harris perform a solo entitled “Endangered Species”. In this solo, Harris slipped, locked, popped, and ticked silhouetted in a round pool of red light. One had to ask herself was he human or cartoon. Like Benji Reed this ironic caricature come comic gave tragedy in his tick lock moonwalk that ended with his dreadlocks stealing the final move but not the intended meaning. With the rap, both physical and verbal, the dance detailed a life view with horrific consequences. Harris’ form and content divined the too frequent and useless death of African American male youths through gang warfare, robbery, being in the wrong place at the wrong time or just losing the battle of survival in an often times harsh and dismissive society. Harris delivered a message just as Jonzi D does in Aeroplane Man. In Aeroplane Man, Jonzi on a journey finds a mirrored image of self that contains a fair share of enlightenment at the end of his travels. In this work the women mirror or contrast several dimensions of Jonzi’s charater complete with several dimensions of female ness, sexual ness being only one. These women also demonstrated a mastery of several movement specialities from hip-hop, contemporary dance and South African dance. They spoke in different dialects and their improvisation was honest and a marvel to watch. Harris’ “Rome and Jewels” was captivating because of the inspired revision of the Shakespeare’s Romeo with the portrayal of an imaginary Juliet planted in the mind’s of both the character Rome and the audience. The shaping of content paralleled the manipulation of movement vocabulary that incorporated ensemble moves that did not remove individual ness and improvisations that pushed the potential aerodynamic possibilities of the form passed my greatest expectations.
Today’s hip-hop is an amalgamation of ethnics, genders and social and economic agendas. Choices cost the artists and the form. My observation on this occasion is Bounce satisfies economic agendas where theatre must be profit not prodigy. DJ Hazze contribution gave Bounce its integrity, each one of his solos a testimony of his expertise in the craft. Hazze’s ticking solo incorporating popping and wave work will remain in my mind’s eye as an excellent example of what it is to stupefy an audience. The Bounce presentation of November reveals a more seasoned cast since I saw them in August. They are beginning to acquire some of the traits I find inspiring in hip-hop. Still though the music has more a sense of history or content than the performance delivered by the dancers. One number begins with the dancers lying on the floor and builds to standing only to mimic death aided by the sound of gunshots. A lone figure is left at the end of this number performing a move that spirals from and into the floor with a long reach around the back with one arm. I am touched by this dancer’s indication but not his intention for somehow his bodily narrative has yet to express the inner landscape I believe he seeks to portray. I suspect in time he will though. I do not put anything pass a dancer who knows what is required and has that goal in mind. I also know in the end it will be down to the directors who set the goals to be obtained. Their input will dictate the quality of performance in the presentations of Bounce and Bounce’s re-presentation of hip-hop.
<small>[ 11-26-2002, 08:34: Message edited by: Stuart Sweeney ]</small>