Hip-hop purists still fret about sellouts. But somewhere between Run DMC hawking Adidas and Nas declaring “hip hop is dead,” hip hop got to be everybody’s culture. That much was clear at the Arsht Center last week on the sold-out opening night of the Cirque Èloize show, iD.
There was old school graffiti projected on a futuristic cityscape. Muscular dancers bust classic moves, spinning on their heads and flaring their legs. Little battles broke out as the dancers rocked up and back at each other. All these moves have technical names. But even if the audience didn’t know them, they recognized the moves. We’ve been watching them for nearly 40 years now.
So why not an urban circus? Everybody’s seen all the circus moves too. Might as well mix it up.
iD is the first venture into urban dance by Cirque Èloize, a circus arts troupe from Montreal. In the program, about half of the 16 performers are identified as “urban dancers” and the rest with circus specialties like “contortions” and “Chinese pole.” Onstage, they all look like they could be winners on Canada’s Best Dance Crew.
But whether it’s an air flare or a guy balancing on a tower of chairs, just because we’ve seen something before doesn’t mean it’s not breathtaking. Xuan Le moved like liquid poetry on inline skates. Fletcher Sanchez brought new meaning to pole dancing, whipping himself from top to bottom then pausing to hold his arms and body in a perfectly straight, horizontal line. And an entire show could have been devoted to things that contortionist Emi Vauthey can do in a back bend.
Over at the Little Haiti Cultural Center last Saturday, an evening of dance curated by choreographer Afua Hall proved once again that tradition is worth carrying on. The standing only crowd clearly exceeded expectations: there were programs for only about half the audience.
Each of the evening’s two acts opened with a performance by youngsters who participated in the Center’s Discover Art! summer camp. This was urban dance by urban kids, yet the most current street move was Michael Jackson’s moonwalk. If “urban” is a code word for African traditions, these dancers and choreographers went way back, through tap to centuries-old dances from Haiti and Senegal.
No sign of the circus here. If anything, the featured choreographers toned down the spectacular nature of many African dances by mixing those moves with contemporary concert dance. Of particular interest were works by Petagaye Letren and Ronderrick Mitchell that stripped down the leaps and arm circles of Senegalese dance into quiet meditations.
In videos screened on either side of intermission, Megan Swick set vaguely Cuban moves on serious-faced young women who swished while hanging laundry and wandering along railroad tracks and Lazaro Godoy, a choreographer visiting from Israel, pulsed through the streets of what looked like an Israeli city with the mischievous gestures of the Yoruba trickster, Elegua.
Two Haitian pieces each hewed close to tradition, but the similarity in choreography was offset by the contrast in the dancers’ appearance. In the first act, the Haitian-born, long-time Miami based-beauty Yanui wore a white dress and head wrap that set off her dark skin. In the second act, the lovely Annie Hollingsworth and Brooke Joy Waszak, in stylish rompers and red lipstick that emphasized their pale complexions, looked more like silent screen stars than Haitian folklorists.
All three women performed faithfully, proving that skin color is no bar to any dance form. But the surprising contrast was a reminder that, thanks to the world order, Haitian dance has remained largely the province of Haitian people. Meanwhile hip hop has become a global vernacular as familiar to urban kids in the Bronx as to circus performers in Montreal. Let’s hope programs like this one will introduce more people to lesser-known traditions. Next up: a Haitian folklore circus.
This article was first published in the Miami Sun Post.