What is the expressive potential of hip hop? What underlies the movement vocabulary of break dance? Is there a theory of syncopation, of inversion? Montreal’s RUBBERBANDance Group, directed by choreographer Victor Quijada, raised some of these questions for me in their presentation of “Loan Sharking” at the Durham Performing Arts Center June 24-26. Billed as a company that blends hip hop and contemporary dance, RUBBERBANDance’s influences actually reach much wider, including ballet, capoeira, and various forms of improvisation, including contact improvisation. Rather than infusing contemporary dance with blasts of the high impact flashiness that has come to be associated with hip hop, Quijada is creating a hard-to-pin-down style that indicates a deep investigation into the particular nature of hip hop, into the elements that set it apart or connect it to other dance forms.
Read the rest of the review here.
Although I couldn't really go into them in the review, I found myself really taken with the questions about the expressive potential of hip hop. Perhaps because Quijada was incorporating hip hop elements into a style that was so different than how we usually experience hip hop, I couldn't stop thinking about what those elements are, and what they could express. Most often, I think it is the kinetic power of hip hop that is at the forefront--the pace is usually fast, the movement is powerful, often aggressive, and there are sometimes impressive "tricks" incorporated--headspins, flips, freezes. As a viewer, I get involved in the high energy, the rhythm, my sense of awe at the power, coordination, and daring of the dancers.
But what if hip hop was used to express more than power, speed, or aggression? What could an inversion mean? (An inversion refers to "upside-down" poses, shapes, movement.) A metaphorical turning something or someone on its head? Looking at the world from a different angle? What about the ease with which Quijada's dancers rise up, rebound from the floor? Resilience? As I watched the performance, I kept writing down things like redirect, deflect, replacement--words that suggest subversion, defense, turning an attack into a more positive force. And the solo I describe in the review, where it appears that the woman is "scratching" the movement, as a DJ would scratch a record, speaks of endless repeat, rewind, replay. Or even revision. A starting and stopping, segmented, fragmented flow, a distorted narrative.
Maybe I am reading way to much into all of this, but all of these characteristics tell me something about the origins of hip hop, and the people who developed it. Started in urban centers as a counter-culture street dance, hip hop grew into an alternative to actual fighting, although it often retains a "battling" structure and a competitive nature. Redirect, upside down, deflect, rewind, replay, revise, fragmentation. Are these characteristics inherent in the form or is my hindsight knowledge able to write these interpretations over a convenient surface? At any rate, they speak to me of resilience, creativity, rewriting the conventional narrative. I'm not suggesting that Quijada was intending any of these meanings or interpretations, although he may have been, but his work certainly got my curiosity going.