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Flash Review 3, 9-29: Get Down, Get Down
"Don't Fake the Funk" Keeps it Real

By Maggie Boogaart
Copyright 2001 Maggie Boogaart

AMSTERDAM -- Spectacular breakdance, hip-hop, popping and locking moves are as ever popular in clubs, music videos and movies today. While commercial producers worldwide "smooth out" the energy in pretty steps performed by carefully chosen and trained youth, the multicultural dance group "Don't Hit Mama," whose "Don't Fake the Funk" was seen earlier this month at Theater Cosmic, goes back to the roots of this pure, physical expression and reveals its true background.

In "Don't Fake the Funk" we experience the power of urban life from three big cities. Having grown up in New York, Amsterdam and Johannesburg, the dancers shaped their individuality by performing and dancing in these dynamic, restless and overcrowded urban jungles. The group is as diverse in artistic background as in cultural heritage: In addition to NYC club and classroom legend Archie Burnett, there's Marjaroie Smarth, also of the U.S.; Glen Faria, Clearence Koomdik, Dries El Hantali, and Honey Eavis of the Netherlands; and Jane Sekonya and Moeketsi Koena of South Africa. This ensemble makes for a funky combination of fast footwork, Wacking, Vogueing and Hustle from the club scenes, house and loft parties and academic modern and jazz dance training mixed in with Haitian and South African ritual moves -- all combining into a rich vocabulary.

During the performance, group dances are alternated with surprising solos in which the individual artists show their specialities. We find ourselves on a street corner in Brooklyn, in a dance club and then again witnessing an African ritual. The set is simple, yet effective: five small boxes making up a "skyline" serve alternately as percussion instruments for the musician or chairs for the dancers. Following the African tradition, the musician makes an active connection with the dancers both musically and theatrically, while they respond with rapping, singing, clapping and tapping as true human beatboxes. The accompanying cheers and clapping of the audience made the evening in Amsterdam an energizing experience. The piece shows great potential to grow into an eye-opener for dance-lovers worldwide, connecting history and the present of urban movements on an accessible level.

The choreographers of "Don't Fake the Funk" and artistic brain trust of Don't Hit Mama, Nita Liem (Netherlands) and Moeketsi Koena (South Africa) try to establish the necessity of their work. "Dancing is for purification, affirmation and celebration," says Liem. She has been working for several years with youth who have had little or no academic dance training and are in close connection with their reason to dance, showing a direct approach to the work. Since 1996 she has been creating together with Koena, making professional dance performances. The duo founded Don't Hit Mama last year. Shortly after, Liem left for the U.S. on a scholarship to study the underground club scene. Her enthusiasm persuaded several veteran dancers to follow her to the Netherlands, where, complemented by four Dutch dancers, they made a pilot for "Don't Fake the Funk."

The choreographers vision was affirmed when one of the dancers came up with the title "Don't Fake the Funk." Explains Koena: "Dance is an expression in which you can put everything, it's about everything that happens everyday." While respecting the choreographers ideals to remain true to the dance(rs) origin I personally wonder how their work could evolve including more (technique) training as in more traditional professional dance companies. Could this enrich the movement and make the emotions even clearer and stronger, or would this endanger the honesty of the feelings? In their joined search for true urban dance dancers and directors make a statement against the commercial exploitation of this originally pure form by excluding well known break moves. "Most commercial dance(ers) show only a cover and no soul, therefore disrespecting the heritage of the art form and eventually destroying it," says Liem. She holds that the dancers of Don't Hit Mama have respect for mother earth as ambassadors of this movement for purification of movement, hopefully guiding other dancers back to their origins.

"Don't Fake the Funk" is performed again tonight at 9 at the Lantaren Venster in Rotterdam, before moving to the Huis a/d Werf in Utrecht, Wednesday through Saturday, and the Korzo Theater in The Hague next Sunday.

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