With the help of people like Rennie Harris, choreographer and founder of Philly's Puremovement dance troupe, and DanceFest organizer Micaya, hip hop makes the leap from the streets to the theater. DanceFest, often presented to sold-out crowds, breaks down the genre's various styles, from East Coast b-boy to West Coast pop-locking and boogaloo (those moves you see Justin Timberlake busting in *NSYNC videos).
By bringing hip hop into a theater setting, DanceFest gives the art form a new polish while still keeping it edgy, interactive, and way more fun than, say, the ballet. This year's festival brings together three generations of hip hop hoofers: old school (like lecturer Jorge "PopMaster Fabel" Pabon), new school (Funkanometry SF), and what Micaya calls "true school" -- choreographers like Harris and Traci Bartlow who are passing the torch to future b-boys and -girls.
What does hip hop dance look like? In the movie Save the Last Dance, Julia Stiles plays a Juilliard-bound ballerina who gets schooled in the ways of hip hop at her inner-city Chicago high school. In a killer dance sequence at the end, she synthesizes ballet and hip hop into an elegant, sexy routine that makes the admissions officials' jaws drop. That's the kind of envelope-pushing, boundary-defying work you might see at this festival, when troupes like the swing-influenced Loose Change, Oakland's New Style Motherlode, and Flavor Group, with its capoeira-meets-break-dancing style, take the stage.
Though the fest started out in 1999 with mostly local groups, this year's event boasts guests from as far away as Mexico City (mime troupe Onírico) and New York (Bill "CrutchMaster" Shannon, who loaned his trademark moves to Cirque du Soleil's Varekai). Also flying in from the 212 will be Mop Top Music and Movement as well as Emilio "Buddha Stretch" Austin Jr., the VMA-nominated choreographer for Will Smith and Mariah Carey.
Beatmasters from the International DJ Academy do what DJs do best, and a handful of youth groups perform, including various chapters of the San Diego- based Culture Shock, whose graduates have gone on to appear in videos for Missy Elliott and Destiny's Child. Anyone who's ever seen those fifth-graders groove in Elliott's "Work It" video knows those moves are no small feat.