Breaking emerged in the Bronx in the 1980s before sweeping the globe, compelling viewers with individual virtuosity and toughness, often performed in a “challenge” format. Flex dance, the form’s younger Brooklyn cousin, evolved, contemporaneous with the development of small-format video, from the Jamaican street-style bruk-up, danced to music ranging from reggae to rap. Flex leans toward intimate storytelling rather than sheer physical display.
At the Park Avenue Armory through Saturday, April 4, Reggie (Regg Roc) Gray’s ensemble of 21 flex dancers — ages 18 to 32, four of them women — struggles to get the subtle inflections of their style to register in the huge drill hall, 80 feet high and nearly the length of a football field. Collaborating with Peter Sellars, award-winning director of operas and other spectacles, Roc onstage looks like a social worker or team coach, egging his players on. The dancers tangle with issues of young love, domestic violence, soul-destroying work, drugs, incarceration, and fatal confrontations with authority. Their lyrical compositions and improvisations have trouble competing with the very loud, recorded lyrics (to which they sometimes lip-sync) and Ben Zamora’s flashing neon-light sculpture.
Missing is real choreographic skill, a shaping hand to marshal the substantial physical chops of the young performers into a powerful evening of theater. Given the right guide and a smaller house, this tribe could break our hearts.