Wednesday, April 6, 2022

Street Dance on Stage: In My Body by Bboyizm/Crazy Smooth

 Bboyizm dancers in Crazy Smooth’s In My Body. (Photo: Jerrick Collantes)

Hip hop is a ruthlessly athletic dance form that pushes the body to the limits. The acrobatic moves, requiring immense stores of physical prowess and stamina, are so demanding that break dancing is set to become an Olympic sport when the games resume in Paris in 2024. The fast footwork, head spins, aerial flips and floor drops take a toll. Not for nothing are break dancers called b-boys and b-girls, names connoting the youthful vigour needed to pull it off. Crazy Smooth, aka Yvon Soglo, knows.

The Benin-born, Gatineau-based break dancer has been involved in hip hop culture since 1997, going on to form Bboyizm, an award-winning street-dance company that has been instrumental in the preservation and proliferation of street dance in Canada since its founding in 2004. Today, at age 41, he’s still a b-boy, but a b-boy with knee problems and a middle-age crisis on his hands. How to keep dancing when the spirit is willing but the body is getting weaker with each advancing year? It’s a question that drives In My Body, a thrilling interactive street dance work whose Toronto premiere took place at the Bluma Appel Theatre, inside the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts, on March 17.

A joint presentation of Canadian Stage, danceImmersion and TOLive, the 60-minute show examines the effects of aging on a hip hop dancer, delivering profound insights along with superb dancing by a nine-member multigenerational cast. Crazy Smooth developed it at the Banff Centre when he received the 2020 Clifford E. Lee Choreography Award, a cash prize that includes a residency. There’s much to get excited about: Chantal Labonte’s shape-defining lighting, Samuel Boucher’s video direction, Thomas Payette’s multimedia design, Sonya Bayer and Melly Mel’s urban wear costumes, Xavier Mary’s pared-down set, DJ Sash U’s original beat-based score. But it’s the dancing, as energetic as it is contemplative, that steals the show.

The piece starts with Crazy Smooth spotlighted in his skivvies, practically naked. A voiceover outlines the dilemma – a potentially career-ending knee energy that has him thinking about his mortality. The dance that has long defined him has pounded his body hard. It has strained his knees to the breaking point and yet dance he must, even as he gets older and must grapple with the weight of time on his musculature.

“B-boy forever” is his mantra and as the words (scripted by Alejando Rodriguez) reverberate, a fragmenting red light, a mapping of his own inner vital energy, appears, superimposed on his torso. This is the energy of the dance coursing through his body, and it drives him to pull on the garments scattered at his feet, starting with protective underclothes and ending with loose shirt, trousers and sneakers, the b-boy’s dance uniform. Fully dressed, he is no longer a man grappling with the frailty of the flesh. He’s an empowered dancer ready for some hip hopping action. Cue the crew.

Ranging in age from their early twenties to their late fifties, the dancers thunder on stage, executing lightning-fast kick-outs, shuffles, and corkscrew spins. They perform collectively and separately in competitive displays of improvisational skill, creating an instant rapport with the audience. The pyrotechnics occasionally give way to quieter, slowed-down moments when the dance veers inward to become reflective and intimate. As performed by Canadian street dance pioneer DKC Freeze, ex-Cirque du Soleil dancer Natasha “Tash,” Jean-Bart, Nadine “Nubian Néné” Sylvestre and Crazy Smooth himself, these nuanced solos are among the show’s highlights.

Backed by video, audio and lighting effects, the senior dancers excavate and dissect the reason why they dance, even when it hurts. Dance isn’t just a passion. It’s an identity and a legacy that they hope to pass onto to the next generation, here represented by the show’s younger cast members: the brothers Jerick “Anyo” and Jayson Collantes, the b-girls Tiffany Leung and Julie Rock and Vibz, a professional break dancer from France. How to keep on dancing? These dynamite performers provide the answer: Be defiant. Stay resilient. Hold true to what moves you, deep in the body.   

Deirdre Kelly is a Toronto-based journalist, author and internationally recognized dance critic and style writer on staff at The Globe and Mail newspaper from 1985 to 2017. She writes for Dance Magazine in New York, the Dance Gazette in London, and NUVO in Vancouver, and is a contributor to the International Dictionary of Ballet and AWOL: Tales for Travel-Inspired Minds. The best-selling author of Paris Times Eight and Ballerina: Sex, Scandal and Suffering Behind the Symbol of Perfection, she is a two-time recipient (2020 and 2014) of Canada’s Nathan Cohen Prize for outstanding critical writing. In 2017, she joined York University as Editor of the award-winning The York University Magazine where she is also the publication’s principal writer.

 

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