Robert Hylton’s Urban Classicism intends to experiment with the movement vocabulary of Hip Hop culture and present contemporary dance works that comment through abstraction and parody the state of living and creative practice. The latest work seen at the Purcell Room at London’s South Bank Centre 12 May 2006 was Verse&Verses. Combining dancers, Rose Chu, Paula Vacarey, Jake Nwogu, Theo Alade, DJ/dancer Billy Biznizz and Hylton with video projections, and guest appearance by pioneer Jorge “Popmaster Fabel” Pabon, Verse&Verses removed the movement vocabulary and intra-cultural significances of Hip Hop culture from its street context and set it in a contemporary dance theatre space.
The break dance moves Hylton utilises are recognisable within the popping genre; hits, toyman, scarecrow, waves, tiking, boogaloo, tuts, low rock variations and more, are only the starting point. There are also the occasional signatures from ballet, well placed second positions and brise like jumps. In Verse&Verses, Hylton takes this movement language, arranges it in space and connects the moves into phrases using contemporary dance compositional devices. The strategy though is abstraction, removal from the typical to experiment with the moves and the usual significances to open the possibility of this language to exist and comment beyond its recognisable environment.
What we find with the different layers, layers of technique, music and theatre is that those who see pass the initial mystery of merging techniques get a clear picture. Some automatically resist us; they can not initially accept the experiment. The key word and end goal is ever increasing into experience. Urban classicism as a dance company is striving for new experiences, built from heavy knowledge of foundation – you gotta know the rules to break the rules.
After the respectful performance of Popmaster Fabel sandwiched between video footage and rousing music by Billy Biznizz Verse&Verses experiment into abstraction presents ensemble work, dancers entering and exiting with several solos. Hylton’s solo with its particular body expression, has interjection of recognisable ballet signatures, 2nd positions with break dance moves. There was then a duet played with double imagery. Paula Vacarey has a powerful solo with turns and freezes. DJ scratch master Billy Biznizz slides in on his belly from stage right. Biznizz also performs an assortment of popping moves behind the turntable. On the screen is the image of grooves of a record on a turntable. Rose Chu, Paula Vacarey, and Jake Nwogu enter with counterpoint low rock and breaking forms from stage left and juxtapose Biznizz who is moving stage right; Biznizz on his head with the ensemble breaking echo-like counterpoint each other, sandwiching the rhythm of legs with promenades of Biznizz’s head. There is also some brief comic relief with Biznizz using vinyl records as eyes to watch the dancers or dressed in pink and black costume that stretches over his knees while in squat position. Biznizz conjures a bubble man who struts and contorts his face and waves his hands in ostentatious fashion. Nwogu’s solo also performed with interjection of recognisable ballet signatures: 2nd position, entrechats, and brisé volé
Verse&Verses is an abstraction in that there seems to be no literal narrative underlying the work’s performance. One could easily consider the movement simplistically arranged and performed a bit too strictly resulting in some moves seeming sterile, minus the spirit that originally brought them into existence. There is an explanation for this response:
First and foremost the concept was the music, how can we create indifferent music; an album of music which is more unfamiliar than familiar and from these sounds, the challenge of creating movement and theatre. I believe music can have its own identity story. We try to be open when listening and retrieve the personality in the estranged music. What we began to build accidentally was a sub narrative of the creative persona (the dancers) and the corporate music persona the DJ (Billy) and how they coexist. With the name Hip Hop now being attached to society more as product than CULTURE, this became an underling narrative. I made the conscious decision not to play the work into a complete narrative dance theatre piece of which was very possible; instead by putting the breaks on to retain unfamiliar abstraction sustaining the experimental level of abstraction and narrative.
Hylton’s Urban Classicism acknowledges the roots of established lexicons of movement, ballet and the various contemporary dance forms. Hylton believes the movement vocabulary of Hip Hop culture, its break dance moves of which there are hundreds and ways of knowing movement that signify in stance and gesture this culture’s manner of communication in life and creative practice, has the potential of rivalling more bona fide mainstream forms. The norm and perhaps stigma of battle/challenge machismo and youthful improvised spontaneity that is usually associated with break dance shadows the requisite responsibility of an aficionado like Hylton to create and bring something new to the form. The belief that the movement vocabulary of break dance can be executed in abstraction, shifted and arranged differently is a creditable experiment. How far to push the vocabulary is the question that only Hylton can answer.
I am looking now at production - producing work to gain a full theatrical experience as opposed to my previous motions to concentrate on dance only, but I do hope to always work between the 2 in my career.
Given Hylton’s proposition, his belief in the viability of Hip Hop culture’s dance vocabulary and his venture into abstraction, Verse&Verses doesn’t go far enough. It is careful and tame; making typical associated youthful bravura commonplace with its chosen compositional devices seemingly clever though not without inspiration. The abstraction here ends up being mimetic for it arranges the moves in differing sequences with occasional spatial variations; the experimental task one of shift rather than transformation; shift from street to theatre, from solo to duets and trios, from stage right to stage left. There is success in this method as seen with other choreographers in other genres who take classical vocabularies and set them in alternative theatrical frames. This is the foundation upon which all contemporary cross cultural dance making occurs; be it inter or intra cultural dance making. It is hoped though that Hylton’s experiment with movement abstraction in future is not just the arrangement and rearrangement of moves in varying combinations in theatrical space but a transformation, a rupture of an original move to devise an alternative movement vocabulary that shares its legacy with Hip Hop culture but has its own way of expressing it.
THEA NERISSA BARNES