FULL CIRCLE SOULJAH'S BOXED
May 23, 2018
Walking into Danspace Project before Full Circle Souljahs’ Boxed In can lead one to think they are in the middle of an immersive preshow. Music is playing, and audience members are dancing around, enjoying themselves and each other. Everyone pipes down for the curtain speech, but many continue to cheer on as the show unfolds. An incredibly lively Q & A reveals that most of the audience knows the creators and cast, their relationships, as well as the culture of hip-hop dance, granting permission for such joviality.
Later, pianist Michael Bond explains how in classical music it is proper etiquette to not applaud between movements of a long work. The usual contemporary dance programming at Danspace largely follows the same convention, but it simply doesn’t feel right to sit quietly during this show; however, unless you have personal or cultural permission, you have no other choice.
This sort of cultural tension is rife within Boxed In – a work full of unquestionably impressive performances that comes in just short of stringing its melting pot of styles into a cohesive narrative – artists intersecting at a space where some are classical and some are hip-hop, and a few grapple with inhabiting both worlds, trying to make it big – termed by artistic directors Gabriel Kwikstep Dionisio and Ana Rokafella Garcia as hip-hop theatre.
An initial sense of hip-hop being bad and classical being good, due to a chorus of intimidatingly masked hip-hoppers meander around two ballet dancers, is thankfully quick to be clarified as internal conflict within the dancing protagonists, who are trying (but failing) to quell their culturally inherited hip-hop nature for their learned classical leanings.
Muddying the journey is a lack of clarity when performance is used literally, to symbolize something larger, or to simply be an entertaining diversion. Bond plays a dazzling jazz rendition of “Somewhere Over The Rainbow,” and then in the next scene reverts to his reductive caricature of a classical musician who laments about his inability to play anything but classical, retroactively redefining his solo as fantasy. Dionisio and Garcia, representing camps of specialization in hip-hop dance, take scenes to playfully teach each other their styles but fail to further the story, pinning us down in the realm of exposition.
The most successful scenes are solos by the ballet dancers – Shaneekqua Woodham and Odylle “Mantis” Beder. They each have a variation, accompanied in part by Bond’s piano, recorded hip-hop and African music, and Gene Shinozaki’s live beatboxing. Music genres switch abruptly and mix together, dancing acrobatically shifting perfectly along with it. These soliloquys come closest to getting at a true sense of character, conflict, and the distance between how they present themselves and who they really are.
While socioeconomic problems are certainly present in aesthetic problems, creative freedom is hardly on par with socioeconomic freedom, leaving Boxed In as a Disney-esque skimming over what are clearly real issues for this rousing collective of performers.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Jonathan Matthews