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Robert Hylton Urban Classicism
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Author:  Thea Nerissa Barnes [ Mon Nov 25, 2002 8:40 am ]
Post subject:  Robert Hylton Urban Classicism



Robert Hylton Urban Classicism, Life in Urban Classicism occurred Friday 15 and 16 November 2002 at The Place in London. The presentation begins with Hylton moving against a backdrop lit in a manner that alludes to imprisonment. Our protagonist is a prisoner but our performer has a breath of embodied knowledge that means to break conventional conceptions of street dance. In this opening work Hylton defines theatretronics; refined subtleties of popping, waving, locking, ticking, and King tut accompanied by a vocabulary for the face and spoken text. The text Hylton speaks represents the antagonists who are both invisible and impersonated by Hylton. A simple side step out of the centre special and Hylton’s body narrative personifies either judge or instigator. The judge incites Hylton while the instigator challenges both being denigrator or detractor. The audience is then presented two well-crafted films Urban Classicism and Urban Voodoo. These fine films show off Hylton and director, Oliver Ashton refreshing approach to the inclusion of movement text in the film medium. In a conversation with Hylton I learned that Urban Classicism acknowledges the roots of established lexicons of movement, ballet and the various contemporary dance forms. Hylton believes though that street dance will also gain the same status as these bona fide forms and be recognised for the creative wellspring it already is. The image of battle/challenge machismo that is usually associated with street dance sometimes shadows the requisite responsibility of the performer to “create”, to improvise to discover individuality and bring something new to the form. The intention is to re-invent. In the second half Hylton offers his “mission” to offer something new.

The second half of the program presented a seemingly endless cascade of movement that for me presented one of the most successful mutations of street moves transposed into contemporary dance abstraction. Street dance is an improvised vocabulary of shared and invented moves that change with individual performance skill. In this dance work though the movement design is consistent with the genre but the frame has been rearranged. Intended to be a satirical comment on futuristic oral and physical communication, “Landscapes” has the flow of manipulated gyrations body popping and locking, breakdance with Capoiera flow re-invented with ingenious inverted work. Head stands slow to allow instances of breath or touching of limbs. Compositional strategies re-define space, switch focus, alter facings, flip moves, augment, fragment, then relocate the design of arm to leg. Intermittent walks characterise each dancer with his or her own swagger speaking street-ness but also reclaiming focus and switching the improvisation to another venture. The music contributed its sense of the mood being somewhat futuristic but familiar in its manipulation of turntable scratching. Its electronic-ness was layered in a manner to augment the subtleties of the movement. These compositional strategies seemed familiar and I am remained of similar choreographic explorations of Jonathan Burrows and Akram Khan, choreographers who have taken individualised embodied knowledge and constructed personalised movement text with specialised compositional tools that make their dance works incomparable to others.

Admittedly The Place sets the mark and provides a place for the pulse of contemporary dance to beat. The shared sensibilities of these choreographers do not speak of the influence of any one thing but signals a standard for the arc of contemporary choreography. In 1962 Robert Dunn’s composition class influenced a generation of experimental dance makers that heralded the dawning of post modern dance and side stepped the geniuses of expressionist modern dance makers like Martha Graham. Post modern dance makers chose objective impersonal compositional strategies similar to the contemporary art insights of Merce Cunningham and John Cage to speak of a relevance that was more interested in clarifying the landscape they lived in, not the landscape of the heart. Street dance in its various forms is a reaction to landscape. In this landscape the disenfranchised turned bodily narrative into a weapon of defence to save identity and declare altered cultural significance. Hylton and similarly Jonzi D and Kwesi Johnson have taken individualised embodied knowledge of street dance and divined their own theatre. Hylton’s urban classicism offers an altered effort to define an individual expression of the genre. Hylton’s vocabulary is just aching for manipulation and Hylton is well equipped to do just that.

Katie Pearson is earth bound and strong. Her body locking and Capoeira like moves are weighted like cement if cement could also ooze and bend like a wire. Hylton has a different weight with different intonation. Hylton’s display of weight had flashes of a bodily narrative familiar with the lexicons of ballet and classic contemporary dance, his linearity giving way to à la seconde poses illustrating the breath of his contemporary dance experience. This though is that improvisation factor like Charlie Parker quoting “Laura” in the middle of a music set. It’s just a fancy, a choice that encapsulates a remembered sensation. All gives rise to more manipulation of gyrations that are spliced together to make the transition from one movement phrase to the next. Frank Wilson’s angularity just shy of being inhuman is a wily caricature who delivered the sarcasm in the work with his on/off smile before the exquisite duets. Close to the end DJ Billy Biznizz entered Landscapes leaving his turntables to loop on their own demonstrating his embodied knowledge of moves as well as sound.

The design of this dance work is a display of movement sets that segue one to the next each having its own particular harmony. Hylton’s declaration “not to gain acceptance but to assert possibility!” is more than aptly given. His movement abstraction is so easily absorbed that if these are the strategies of composition used to manipulate the richness of movement vocabularies available on street corners, living rooms, and dance clubs everywhere then AMEN!

<small>[ 09 April 2004, 11:08 AM: Message edited by: Stuart Sweeney ]</small>

Author:  Stuart Sweeney [ Fri Apr 09, 2004 1:54 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Robert Hylton Urban Classicism

Robert Hylton Urban Classicism
By Donald Hutera for The Times

ROBERT HYLTON trained at the Northern School of Contemporary Dance, Leeds, but his earliest dance education was on the street and in clubs. Pushing the boundaries between street, jazz, ballet and contemporary styles, this young hip-hop artist uses a mix of forms to take dance to entertaining and dramatic new places. The latest evidence of his quest is a package of live and filmed dance called Physical Elements.

click for more

Author:  Thea Nerissa Barnes [ Mon Apr 19, 2004 3:06 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Robert Hylton Urban Classicism

Just what is meant by ‘classical’ when applied to the movement vocabulary most associated with hip-hop? Classical implies an established, easily recognised body of knowledge that has survived for a number of years and is accessible enough to be shared between several dance communities worldwide. Despite several decades and contexts of use in different locations, embodied knowledge of hip-hop with its particular aesthetic, bodily architecture, and dynamics has most definitely survived. Passed from generation to generation, this expression retains nuances in movement that distinguish it from other dance forms even if this disparity confirms similar origins. By attributing ‘classical’ to urban dance expressions one acknowledges a legacy of exploration that has continued since the jook halls along rural tributaries that connected the dance and music of urban communities after the civil war in America to the first break-dancers who signalled their arrival in the early 1980’s to the present.

Hylton’s Urban Classicism is an affirmation of this legacy. Hylton uses contemporary dance as his default theatre form while making the movement language of street dance his creative force. Hylton’s compositional strategies seek cultural fulfilment and offer his own form of social critique. The use of language, dance and music to comment on or subvert hegemonic practices while tapping a communal base of knowledge uses reinvention or reclamation to destabilize hegemonic discourses. The dancing body in Hylton’s art seeks to legitimise counter hegemonic interpretations. Hylton’s compositional strategies discover fresh individuality and use its own resources to strengthen cultural bonds.

Two Sugars With My Hip Hop Please is a film conceived and produced by Robert Hylton, directed and edited by Curtis James with music by Billy Biznizz. Working with residents and staff at Philip House in Kilburn, London workshops lead to a two-day shoot around the South Bank Centre site. With the camerawork of Curtis James, David Laird, and Billy Biznizz the film was pure engagement laced with bits of humour and delicacy. The film’s visuals expressed an ethos of sharing and exchange. Wonderful that street dance could be the vehicle to bring together and excite such a mixture of cultures and levels of maturity too explore communication between self and others. The ensemble of gestures revealed separate body narratives but spoke to the plurality of laughter, enjoyment, camaraderie, and mutual appreciations. Differences sparked new discoveries while shared recollections induced cultural bonds. It was wonderful that these moments of dance were moments of fulfilment gained as a result of explorations in hip-hop.

Standing upstage right our protagonist, Dizzi, danced by Robert Hylton, moves. A simple sentence of one total body gesture after another seemed to mimic our protagonist being hit on the head with a sledgehammer. There is resilience, a bounce back retaliation in the movement that continues facing different directions. A further sequence travels Dizzi to the centre. More moves, body pop and flow, body waves in arms that sequence to the legs as the torso lowers to the floor that slips and slides. These sideways motions make the knees seem elastic, the arms pedestals for the body to stand on and the hands gestures lending a lean to the body stance. This body narrative speaks an attitude, a sense of self.

The video flashes words and pictures, a visual as well as a sound rhythm in them displaying other hip hop performers. Our protagonist picks up the moves adding his own nuance, the dance becoming a metaphor for a vocabulary of confidence that is re-invented with a different tension. There are moments when our protagonist seems to challenge the audience or some other antagonist or is it himself he wars with. The video now shows an altered form of our protagonist. As these images move on the screen our protagonist seems to battle an inner turmoil. This is followed by a contest. Can the protagonist vary his statements and meet the demand? Can the protagonist endure this taunt to do or die? What are the strategies of survival when the hegemony flaunt their pillage of the form but disparage the practice?

In the end it seems a draw and then a reiteration or is it reconciliation. Dizzi returns to the beginning and continues the journey but this time with accompaniment. The visuals illustrate other dancers, other partners or are they reminders. There is a legacy, the notion that the intention is to re-invent. There is also the need to claim a sense of self in a vocabulary where everyone is encouraged to add their own intrepretation; to gain their separate successes and affirmation even if this success disparages the practice. The counter point of Dizzi and the projected dancers fulfil a promise to the art but has Dizzi made his point? This solo illustrates numerous sensate notions regarding hip-hop as it eschews contemporary dance vocabularies to present an exposé on the efficacy of hip-hop expression. That’s a lot for one dance to do.

Urban Voodoo has been seen on numerous occasions and is a treat every time even if the playback in this venue wasn’t so great. A feast for the visceral eye here we have Hylton and Oliver Ashton’s master DJ calling those who are susceptible to the beat. It is the beat that conjures up the spirit for inspired muscular gyrations on a chequered mat.

Landscape first seen 2 years ago is like Innocence using street dance vocabulary while engaging contemporary dance as the default theatre form. In this performance Frank Wilson, Katie Pearson, Nathi Mncube and Billy Biznizz affirm the efficacy of Hylton’s excursions in movement abstraction. Street dance in its various forms is a reaction to landscape providing a visceral commentary on its practitioners’ lived experience. In Landscape, Hylton manipulates this form with contemporary dance composition in contemplation of future existence. Hylton’s compositional strategies with the adept performance skill of his dancers reveal fresh bodily narratives that legitimise hip-hop interpretations of urban life. This performance did not include the personal performance of Hylton but in his stead, Nathi Mncube, brought a new bodily excellence. All together, inspired prowess with a bit of naughtiness, this is a great piece of choreography that continues to intrigue at each viewing.

Author:  Stuart Sweeney [ Mon Apr 19, 2004 3:29 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Robert Hylton Urban Classicism

I've consolidated two topics:

corrival posted 19 April

Thank you Thea for your wonderful review.

Author:  Robert Hebert [ Sun May 16, 2004 9:10 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Robert Hylton Urban Classicism

Thea... Great post. Hope all is well. Have not seen you in years. Email me sometime at


Author:  Lyndsey Winship [ Fri Apr 29, 2005 6:03 am ]
Post subject:  Robert Hylton: Verse & Verses

Robert Hylton Urban Classicism
Verse & Verses
Laban, 22/04/05

This latest show from hip hop innovator Robert Hylton looks a bit like a Gap advert: a gang of brightly dressed young dancers with smiling faces and streetwise moves. That formula might successfully sell a store-full of jeans, but it’s not as cutting edge as you might expect from Hylton.

Putting hip hop on stage is fairly established now in the dance world, and after marvelling at the headspins, windmills and other gravity-halting moves, the issue soon became how to make theatrical hip hop more than just a dance-off.

Some choreographers, like Rennie Harris, have chosen the narrative route. Others, like Hylton, look to meld hip hop styles with other dance forms, particularly contemporary, to create a new movement language. The cast Hylton has assembled for Verse & Verses, while being well-schooled in the vernacular of breaking, popping etc, all have their own distinct backgrounds, which they bring to the show.

Paula Vacarey, for example, is a real B-girl, a member of battle crews Sinstars, Foundationz Cru and Outbreak, who has competed internationally and finally banishes the notion that girls can’t breakdance. Her fellow female performer, Rose Chu, by contrast has a much more contemporary line and fun, funky presence. Mickael Riviere’s acrobatic background comes though clearly in his gymnastic poses and balances, in complete contrast to ballet-trained Jake Nwogu. This diverse mix goes to make the company a little rough around the edges, but that doesn't necessarily have to be a bad thing, and Hylton plays each one to their strengths.

There are plenty of familiar hip hop elements here – the DJ on stage, the cult of vinyl well in evidence as images of spinning records are projected onto the stage and backdrop – but there are also steps away from the traditions of the battle, the performers’ circle and the succession of physical tricks. Hylton’s dances are structured, with pattern and direction, and a finishing point that isn’t always back where you started. Instead of making each dancer fight for attention he joins them together to turn two single breakdancers into tumbling partners. He also decides against a relentlessly energetic soundtrack, choosing more laid back sounds and atmospheric electronics instead.

While these are all interesting developments, the final result lacks focus. There are 18 short sections, and the overall effect is too episodic to get a grip on. The material is undeveloped and not nearly as inventive as you’d hope. Perhaps they were short on rehearsal time – the show could definitely do with more polish. Having said that, there are moments where you can see what Hylton might be getting at. One solo from Jake Nwogu sums up exactly what Urban Classicism could mean, as he slams his ballet technique up against a hip hop beat, attacking the floor with ferocious jetes and high speed soubresauts. This is exciting choreography, this is a real culture clash, but it also feels like a true expression of the dancer’s physical identity. This is what we’ll hope to see more of next time.

Author:  kurinuku [ Sat Apr 30, 2005 9:27 am ]
Post subject: 

Robert Hylton
by SANJOY ROY for the Guardian

He orchestrates his body like an ensemble, triggered by the different musical layers and textures. As a chord slides downwards he sinks into a knock-kneed crouch, one dangling hand echoing the tap and tremor of the cymbal.

published: April 29, 2005

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