Sunday, March 3, 2024

Dance Review: Urban Roots Festival

It’s drizzling and I’m walking up to St. Mark’s Church for the Urban Roots Festival where there is a healthy line outside of young urban hipsters, house heads, artists, poets, culture heads, and dancers at the ready to enter the space to score a coveted chair, bench, or at least a pillow on the floor like a pre-school game of musical chairs.   With the house packed full, emcee NAIMA, of Climbing Poetree performs a hot poem that gets the crowd riled and ready to take in this evening’s culture eclectic festival of young and enlightening artists.

For the opening piece, festival host, Kinetic Junglist Movement (KJM), performs a very intriguing work of movement invention enhanced by some creative costume designs as the dancers’ human faces are masked and their bodies are covered from head to toe in shimmery insect-like bodysuits with thin finger extensions that appear like long needle-like appendages.  Choreographed by Amy Secada, this piece details the metamorphosis of a Cicada, an insect known by it’s clicking sounds and ability to molt, shedding it’s shell.   Combining yoga, capoeira, and some acrobatic movements, about 80% of this fifteen minute piece is done on the floor.   No lazy dancers here, dancers roll, balance, and pause in deep squats, and at some points, burst up into the air in eclectic jumps with a sort of creepy yet ethereal undertone.   So much demanding floor work, you would think the dancers have knees of steel!   Although a bit lengthy and somewhat repetitive, the metamorphosis is absolutely captivating. 

Hannah Thiem PhotographyPurely a stand-out in the program is the multi-talented performer, Monstah Black, who really knows how to  demand attention from an audience.  He sings one of his songs, "Black Like Jesus," a fan favorite, fusing in his own very dynamic movement style as he covers the entire space solo with his quick turning leaps and soul slithering, black glama flair.  One thing great about Monstah Black is that he truly is a seasoned, professional performer in that he has mastered the art of captivating an audience, knowing when to move fast and when to be still, when to scream and when to whisper.  Bravo!

The pick-me-up of the evening goes to a performance by Princess Lockeroo and Akim Funk Buddha presenting an "Urban Opera" interpretation of the famous habanera from Carmen.  Whacking, vogueing, and some locking and jazz dance fuse together to create a comical scene heightened by a dazzling chorus of "full-out" dancers. 

Spinnin Ronin Martial Arts Dance Theater entertains with a comical story ballet complete with a menacing Samurai, flashy swords, and fight choreography worthy to be seen in the next Jet Li movie.  In an awesome battle scene with the very tall Kei Yokoyama, watch out for their underdog, the petite heroine, Pai Wang, as she is a hot one with her Samurai sword in hand flowing through the very acrobatic fight choreography with fury and ease.  Although lengthy for a one night multi-act filled festival, the performance successfully blends dance, martial arts, and choreographed fight moves with a delightful beginning, suspenseful Are You A Dancer?  Join iDANZ Today!climax, and an end.  For a dance show, Spinnin Ronin, with its martial arts fused movement and exciting fight expertise, is a welcome addition to a mostly modern/jazz fusion dance festival.

Of course, we can’t ignore the grand finale:   the energetically uplifting and thoroughly entertaining Babacar M’Baye & Co. presenting a Sabar, (Senegalese dance and drumming style).  Because of its innate spiritual nature, Babacar M’Baye’s Sabar is a reminder to the audience of the folklore focus of the evening.  A grand demonstration of skill and tradition, Babacar M’Baye proves to be a fantastic way to end an evening and of course, a great instigator to incite audience members to jump to their feet to dance the night away.

Princess LockerooOverall the evening is very eclectic and full of various genres including an intergalactic geisha named Yozmit, who gradually strips on stage while singing to reveal levels of fake body parts…  the private ones!  There is no disclaimer or announcement to the audience so many are scrambling to cover the eyes of children.  Also on the program is an inspiring poem and vocal performance from Micah Blacklight, a musical performance from Le Soul Afrique, and an Afro Brazilian dance performance from Ginga Da Bahia.  However, in my search for the connection between the performance material and the festival’s mission, to "breathe new life into ancient traditions" by showcasing artists who utilize the folkloric arts and fuse these forms with contemporary styles, the presentations come up short. There is folklore and there is fusion, but only some pieces accomplish the festival’s mission.  All in all, while I leave St. Mark’s Church a bit unclear, the performances by these young performers possess promising skill and engaging entertainment.  I am proud.

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Official Dance Review by JoiLynn
Contributing Editor:  Candice Rox
Performance:  KJM Presents…  Urban Roots Project
Venue:  St. Mark’s Church, New York City
Show Date:  October 3, 2010

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