I SLOW DANCED WITH A B-BOY (& I Liked It)

23/03/2010 at 10:53 am Leave a comment

PLATFORM 3: Festival of Hip Hop
CarriageWorks, March 19-20

The opening night for the Platform 3 Festival was a fun-fueled mash-up of music, theatre, comedy & dance that broke all my preconceptions of hip-hop culture into tiny pieces. Let’s be clear – I’m a fan of the genre, ever since I saw Ice Cube playing the festival circuit in the US back in ’92. The mythology surrounding hip-hop’s emergence into the mainstream has been rocky at best: borne of the furnace that is the streets of New York & Los Angeles, in a culture of machismo, glorified violence and misogyny, homophobia with an ever-present undercurrent of drug-culture (bear with me on this, I bring up all these stereotypes for a reason). It’s a streetscape so pervasive in the music that even twenty (or thirty) years on I went in expecting hard edges and attitude. Instead I found positivity and a lively spirit of fun that’s far beyond what you’d find at the launch of a more ‘traditional’ performing arts festival.

The foyer was buzzing; spontaneous breakdancing sessions with b-boys and b-girls of all levels spinning their skills around CarriageWorks. Everyone’s open to meeting new friends with the common ground of a love of music and dance. Chatting to some of the artists, it gets mentioned how there are various events across the hip-hop scene, this is considered one of the best because it brings together the more disparate elements of the culture. There’s DJ nights, breakdancing battles, MC sessions and graffiti-art jams where artists will meet; but here, everyone’s in it. And then some.

But back to my unexpected slow dance…

The main event for the opening night involved some irreverent hip-hop theatre sports. This is something I’ve never seen before; where a breakdancer, MC, a DJ & a vocalist are teamed up to provide seven minutes of performance based on topics thrown at them from the audience. A multi-medium mash up that can go anywhere – seven minutes is a long time! In the first piece, for example, the topics ‘Obama’, ‘Fair Trade’ and ‘Robot Tigers’ were handed to the performers. All the more impressive that the breakdancer on the team is from Korea and has limited English – that his militaristic robot tiger dance at the climax of the work was delivered with sublime timing to the improvised lyrics.

Later, the eventual winners of the event had the topics of ‘Littering’, ‘Natural Disasters’ and ‘Brooklyn 1975’. I’m not sure of the exact significance of this last one, but I’m guessing it has something to do with the deepest roots of hip hop and particularly the cultural revolution underway in that place at that time. The team’s response was strictly speaking – awseome; beginning with a deliciously ironic ‘dance of the floating plastic bag’ and culminating in a tsunami of rubbish threatening all human life – to be stopped only by the coming together of all peoples as one. And thus, somehow dragged onto stage in the climax I found myself cheek-to-cheek with legendary breakdancer Ill Will who’d come all this way from the Bronx to be a part of the festival. It shows how far the stereotypes have melted away that even a b-boy from the heartland of hip-hop can bring a slightly homo-erotic piece of parody to the work; embracing (as it were) the Australian sense of the larrikinism within. And for some reason also embracing me; the nerdy looking dude who happened to be seated at the front. I knew it was inevitable, but I didn’t think my CarriageWorks Bay 20 debut would be quite so… improvised. But how could I refuse?

“HIP HOP IS ALWAYS CONTROVERSIAL”
Darrio Phillips – renowned hip hop dancer.

It’s about pushing boundaries. Always. Hip-Hop music started out as an extension of soul music and the spoken word scene. Then came samples, mixology and breakdancing, all stretching the limits of what’s acceptable or de rigeur. Hip-Hop is political by nature, whether it’s setting off Tipper Gore into full-censorship mode in the early nineties, or even when it gets subsumed into the corporate world and given Academy Awards (here’s looking at you, Marshall Mathers).

Back home of course, the environment is far less antagonistic – Old School, New School influences are abundant but local work hasn’t had the same baptism of fire you might find in say; a brief history of US race relations. Our politics are leaning toward the positive: Reconciliation, Recognition, Respect and Celebrating Diversity. While there’s still a whole mess of problems to talk about; local hip-hop is less about the hate, more about the experience of the global community. So this is a coming together, a festival of zeitgeist.

All elements of hip-hop culture are found here, the graffiti art, the dance, the music and the rhymes – at CarriageWorks, with it’s street-vibe and wide open areas (if the building weren’t erected one-hundred years before hip-hop existed you might think it was custom made for such a thing). There are colourful artworks being put up on site and dynamic breakdancing happening – literally everywhere you look. Crews have come interstate to compete in the breaking comp. Not that there’s anything other than pride at stake but bragging rights play a big role. Breaking is a language unto itself. It’s dance, but it’s theatre, unpredictable, interactive, competitive and live. Teams come up against each other in a draw, with four vs four and by a process of elimination. There’s different style and approaches taken, rehearsed team moves and one-on-one psyche outs. Gentle mocking of the opposition is the order of the day, with the competition heating up as each round continues. The crowd loves it; with every challenge the bar is raised the judges decisions get tougher. The b-boys especially play up the machismo (almost to the point of being camp) but it’s all in genuine respect, once the challenges are done there are hugs and congrats all round. It’s a tremendous atmosphere that lasts all day and fittingly the finals closed out the days events with a bang.

Another highlight of the day was the physical theatre presentation by resident company Stalker, bringing together dance, theatre and hip hop in ways I’ve never seen. I’ve reviewed that separately here, as for me it carries it’s own significance in the world of performing arts. So this one goes out to all the seriously shakin’ boys and impossibly hip girls out there on the day for making up what’s hopefully a new landmark on the Sydney calendar for years to come. Grassroots, International and cool as the breeze, this festival is the shit.

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Entry filed under: Festivals. Tags: , , , .

BREAKING BARRIERS: New Audiences in the House EXCUSES, EXCUSES

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VICTOR SANCZ vassanc [AT] gmail.com

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