'Students of the
November 11, 2003
-- Brighton Dome, Brighton, U.K.
Breakdance and ballet, they’re
not that different really. They both evolved from social dance. They’re
both languages based on a repertoire of specific, stylised moves. They
both encourage dancers to express their personalities or characters. They
both prize prime physical fitness. And they’re both about showing off.
Whether it’s 32 fouettés or a 20-second headspin, we all know when to
There’s plenty of applause for Rennie Harris’ seven-strong company of
fine dancers. There are whoops and cheers and a real feeling of celebration
among the audience and on stage.
Celebrating hip hop culture and celebrating diversity are two of Puremovement’s
aims. Here is a collection of expert movers who all arrived on stage via
a different path. Some trained in dance or performing arts, others just
danced in the streets and clubs, perfecting their popping, stepping, locking,
house and b-boy moves (they don’t actually use the term breakdance).
But Puremovement aren’t just about pure movement at all. They’re not afraid
to confront some ugly issues. Harris is on a mission to examine his culture
(that of the African American male), to preserve it’s history and to educate
the wider world. Sounds like a tall order for a bunch of guys just throwing
The b-boy is a familiar figure in popular culture. Hip hop music and style
are massive in the UK, but what we see most often is the commercial side,
obsessed with money, glamour and violence. This programme fleshes out
the picture, spanning the feel-good roots of the block party and the expressive
possibilities of dance theatre – from playful dance-offs to dark stories
of abuse, racism and murder. Harris delivers monologues like a seasoned
performance poet, ranting about brands, money, race, war, power and politics,
throwing in snatches of Billie Holiday and Marvin Gaye for added impact.
There’s a healthy mix of a freestyle feel and choreographed movement (in
"Continuum" and "P-Funk") combined with more atmospheric,
probing pieces ("Endangered Species", "March of the Antmen")
but this doesn’t always hang together. Across the evening, the change
of pace between the showy and the serious is jarring, and the political
stuff feels a bit heavy handed. But why should they just give us what
Puremovement is always ready to deflect preconceptions. They don’t even
dance to hip hop. The athletic finale and title piece, "Students
of the Asphalt Jungle", is pumped up by samba drums and house music
– I guess because it’s faster than hip hop and therefore easier to raise
the temperature. The moves are less predictable too and very gymnastic.
Jaws drop at the dancers’ amazing control. One balances in a handstand
then tips his body over until his legs are parallel to the floor. He holds
absolutely still before raising himself back to the vertical. Now that’s
impressive. There are somersaults, flips, backspins, guys hopping on their
hands, on one hand even, and crazy legs flying in every direction.
They still use the tradition form where each dancer takes a turn in the
circle, trying to get one up on the last. And there’s a final, knowing
entrance, when one dancer comes on and takes centre stage, points to his
head and gives us what we’ve all been waiting for, a sense-defying headspin,
complete with ultraviolet FX.
Puremovement knows that its dance is much more than clever tricks, but
the dancers would hate to leave an audience unfulfilled.
Edited by Holly Messitt
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