It’s pleasing to learn that you’re watching Rennie Harris’s Legends of Hip-Hop in the same 42nd Street theater where, in 1923, Abie’s Irish Rose began its legendary 2,327-performance run. It’s also a wake-up call to remember that hip-hop has a history—not just its roots in black vernacular dancing from early in the last century, but the inventions that began to flourish in the mid 1970s.
The cheer-rousing show that Rennie Harris has put together introduces us via video to some of the early masters, like B-boy pioneer Crazy Legs; Don Campbell, credited as an inventor of locking; Boogaloo Sam, founder of the Electric Boogaloos; and Pop Master Fabel of Rock Steady Crew, whose spinning headstands began to amaze folks in the early 1980s. The last three also appear live onstage, proudly sponsoring a new generation of virtuosos.
B-boying, popping, locking, and variants astonish by breaking up and re-presenting the human body—turning it upside down, making hands and heads take over the feet’s business, locking it jerkily into poses as by a hidden key in the joints, rippling and sliding with elastic ingenuity. Similarly, the work of DJs—here DJ Swift, DJ Evil Tracy, and DJ Razor Ramon—fractures the music on the platters they spin, creating new sounds with the rhythms of their busy hands. Ramon whaps the turntables with his head, his back. Vocal wizard Anointed S makes his mouth do the popping.
The ante has been upped, in terms of both technique and choreography. Staccato robotic locking acquires new subtlety in the sleek routine of the Mop Tops (Buddha Stretch, Tweetie, Valerie Ho, and Funky Mojo). In the 1980s, women hip-hoppers were rare. Not anymore. The evening’s most spectacular multiple head spins—nearly vertical—are executed by Lady Jules, appearing alongside current members of Rock Steady Crew. The B-boying is mind-blowing: Cricket from Harris’s own Puremovement, wheeling his spraddled legs around like clock hands while spinning on his palms; Ms. Vee bouncing from feet to hands and into a one-handed pirouette; B-Boy Precise revolving on his back or head at a speed that almost turns him into a blur; Teknyk jumping across the stage on his hands; and more.
Don Campbell enters in smoky light like a sturdy ghost to godfather the six vivid Tokyo City Lockers, with their flourished scarves and karate kicks; and Boogaloo Sam presides over the suavely assembled routines of white-suited, foot-swiveling, hip-twisting smoothies Popin’ Pete, Skeeter Rabbit, Suga Pop, and Mr. Wiggles, who at one point link their hands to their feet with elastic cords and turn themselves into spacemen on the march. That’s history!
Will we never tire of watching men and women dancing out love’s perils? Delfos Danza Contemporánea, part of the recent Mexico Now festival, offered one intriguing new take on the sour-sweet story. Trio and String (1992), by company co-directors Victor Manuel Ruiz and Claudia Lavista, to music by Michael Galasso, is the first of the six unrelated short works composing a program called “Brief Moments.” This gifted threesome smacks of the jungle. Lavista and Karen de Luna, bare-breasted, wear long, pleated brown paper skirts and Ruiz a crackling pleated fan around his loins. Posing in the smoky lights, he’s part Christ figure, part iguana. The two women, holding hands, put their heads together as if trading gossipy appraisals of him. He licks their hands (which they later clasp as if holding secrets). He lifts Lavista, throws her away, and tries de Luna. There’s something awkwardly bird-like about the women, but cocky as they seem—sticking out their tongues at him—they’re prey. He bites one on the neck, then pulls out a red cord, binds them, and leads them offstage.
In Lavista’s Alone and My Soul, the liquid and passionate Agustín Martinez reaches, falls, and scrabbles around. A man’s taped voice enumerates body parts—something (his soul?) inhabits them like a virus. In the end, Martinez pulls a red paper bird from his mouth—perhaps his spirit crying out or leaving his body. The two people (Lavista and Omar Carrum) who begin sitting side by side under a low-hanging lamp in Carrum’s I Was Thinking are surviving together (just) while all the couples they know are breaking up. Here, too, lists of body parts, this time fondly recited, crop up in Yann Tiersen’s score. Despite the lashing, expostulating dancing, the two end up back under their light, side by side.
Love troubles are treated with levity in Carrum’s trite 6, 28 . . . and what is missing. Two pairs in gaudy oilcloth outfits jitter like puppets to boopy music, getting more frantic in their screwed-up liaisons, holding out sparkly hearts. But there’s nothing comical about Ruiz’s award-winning 1997 About Love and Other Calamities, in which three men and three women whip, shove, and thrash through encounters, goaded by Tiersen’s accordion-as-calliope. People seem to graze on one another, and predator and prey keep switching roles. Love as the heart’s acrobatics. In Ruiz’s baffling Fracture, two couples squabble and the men fight, while a third man (Aragón) slowly walks a path of light, writhes alone, and spills ashes from a small box. He is the first to strip, while water pours down to cleanse the others. Love and death, unwilling bedfellows.