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Ottawa urban dance troupe Bboyizm in performance.

Handout

IZM

  • Bboyizm
  • Choreography by Yvon Soglo (Crazy Smooth)
  • Enwave Theatre in Toronto on Friday

Here's a riddle and the answer might surprise you. What genre of dance piece contains text with words like zeitgeist and autodidact, while referencing Marshall McLuhan?

Hip-hop. About 15 minutes into IZM, the new full-length work by Ottawa's top crew Bboyizm, choreographer/dancer Crazy Smooth (Yvon Soglo) gives a talk to the audience that is part education, part apologia and part satire.

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His self-mocking language is deliberately heightened and academic. While explaining the historical roots of hip-hop, Crazy Smooth is also throwing darts at critics who won't treat urban street dance as legitimate performance dance.

IZM proves his point. Crazy Smooth and his nine b-boys and b-girls have crafted a dance show that is witty and polished and absolutely belongs on the mainstream professional stage.

At the heart of Crazy Smooth's lecture is the definition of "IZM." It is, he tells us, a state of mind reflecting a cultural lifestyle. As well as being the reflection of living in the here and now, IZM is also a serious dialogue between artist and audience about the very nature of art.

The crew certainly gets to show off their hip-hop virtuosity. The piece abounds with the exciting floorwork that is the hallmark of urban street dance, such as the hands on the floor while the body and legs twist and turn in the air. Or dizzying spins anchored only by the small of the back, or even just the head. Or back flips from a standing position. Bboyizm has hip-hop dance chops down cold.

What is more important in IZM is the framework around these showy tricks. The work is highly choreographed in terms of entrances and exits and variety of presentation. In fact, IZM raises the bar of how hip-hop can make an artistic statement that it is more than just b-battles and dance-offs.

There is for example, a very funny running joke throughout the show. Four individual dancers do a slow walk to middle stage, one after the other. They turn, stare at the audience with deadpan expressions, execute a showy hip-hop trick, then stare at the audience again before slowly making their exit.

By the time this sequence is into its third repeat, the audience is laughing in advance. But we also get the message. This pseudo ponderous pomposity is making fun of so-called high art by showing that hip-hop can also have gravitas, albeit, overdone to the max.

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Another sequence calls for a run of ballet moves including arabesque turns and gazelle leaps. They may be making fun of classical dance vocabulary, but Bboyizm is also subliminally equating their own art with ballet. Similarly, they also demonstrate their skills at Latin dance, which includes intricate footwork and close partnering. And then there is the homage to African dance rituals.

Perhaps the most amusing section is the b-crew making fun of itself. At various points, they pose in the iconic hip-hop freezes: tilting the body back with arms folded across the out-thrust chest; or one hand cupping the chin, elbow resting on the other arm. The audience instantly recognizes these hip-hopisms, and in doing so, we understand that Bboyizm has left the basics behind and is carrying urban dance to the next level of theme and story.



In terms of dance skills, Melly Mel (Melissa Flerangile), Lost Child (Mathieu Dumoulin) and Strife (Mathieu Bilodeau) are stand-outs with their speed and crisp attack. But every one of the Bboyizm dancers is very talented.

Bboyizm is definitely going places as the dancers carve out a new frontier for urban street dance.

Bboyizm performs IZM at Vancouver's The Cultch, Apr. 24 to 29.

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