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Flash Review 2, 10-24: Hip Pop
Full Circle Boogies Down with "Soular Power'd"

By Faith Pilger
Copyright 2002 Faith Pilger

NEW YORK -- For some artists, "Uptown" means anywhere above 14th Street. Others refer to 42nd Street and the midtown area. Still others think of the upper West or East sides, faithfully divided by Central Park. But the real "Uptown" in New York City is more "Down" than Tribeca and it lives on the streets and in the block party scene of the South Bronx. Full Circle's "Soular Power'd," which premiered last weekend at the New Victory Theater on 42nd Street, celebrates the vitality of hip hop culture, bringing the real heart of the Uptown scene to the tourists and mainstream audiences who huddle in terminally long lines, amidst the noisy chattering, honking, and flashing neon lights which together form the intestinal center of New York City.

The show's creators, husband and wife team Gabriel "Kwikstep" Dionisio and Anita "Rokafella" Garcia, have been working on this production and their own nonprofit company, Full Circle Productions, since 1996. The company's name derives from the footwork patterns, shuffles and spins in break-dancing that move in a circular motion. The couple eventually formed a mission: to celebrate 360 degrees of hip hop, meaning both the global spectrum and the multi-dimesional aspects which make up the artistic movement: break-dance, graffiti/visual art, DJing, spoken word/poetry, beat box and rap music. They created the work in bite-sized, 10-minute presentations for special events and the performances have won more and more recognition for their unique combination of high octane talent and urban dance "with a message." But what is that message? What are the "issues" that these inspired and versatile young artists explore and communicate?

It is quite clear to me that these are some of the best dancers in the hip hop scene. Period. They are certainly the hottest I've seen, even considering the classic videos and so called Fathers of pop-lock'n roll. You may have been at one time wow-ed by a breakin' street performance (the creators call this the longest running show on Broadway because of it's seemingly endless 42nd St. street-life), but I promise you: You have not seen dancers with such clarity, stamina, charisma and truly awesome tricks until you've witnessed Full Circle. But, silly rabbit, tricks are for kids...or for adults who still think like kids, consciously or not. That is why we do seek some entertainment with more depth. That is why even the most incredible tricks (have you ever seen a dancer so endlessly spinning on his head that he is able to casually take off his sweatshirt and tie it around his waste???) can eventually become repetitive.

Yes, this production is breaking ground by exploring the possibilities of expressing the deeper, heartfelt issues faced by these urban, mixed-cultural artists through movement; yet some of these explorations just don't go deep enough to be effective. For example, an interesting section, "Generation Xcape," explores the frustration at friends, lovers and family who misunderstand the seriousness or your art/expression/purpose and try to control or distract you. At it's peak, with "Rokafella" singing, DP-One DJing, Afra and Baba beatboxing and "Kwikstep" on drums, there is an awesome sense of unity and true inspiration. Unfortunately, the vignettes that lead up to this climax -- scenes in which the artists are trying to practice and keep getting distracted by beepers, cellphones, whining girlfriends and mothers who want them to do the dishes -- seem, in comparison, painfully adolescent. Instead, I had hoped the artists would take a bit more risk and perhaps explore the broader implications of humans (and societal patterns) whish daily distract us from our positive purpose.

Other moments were more effective: a bit of banter between "Kwikstep" and "Angel"; a father and son relationship which spilled over into drumming and musical competition. "Angel," the resident elder of the group, played only a minor role in the performance, but seemed to have a strong cohesive effect on the entire company. A fantastic drummer, his bio reads, "You wanna see my resume...look at my hands."

Fifteen artists have come together to create this ambitious evening of entertainment which hopes to help to correct negative stereotypes about urban culture. In an interview with New Jersey's Star Ledger, Dionisio says, "Every time you see a kid with a hood over his head and handcuffs...that's not what the urban street is about." And this purpose is effectively, in fact beautifully expressed through projected images of Harlem Streets, the people gathered there and the graffiti of Mario "Artista" Lobo. I found myself thinking how fitting the title was, with the prevailing feeling being one of sunshine and lightness. Even as the subjects of death and loss were approached, there was an underlying positive message which was refreshing.

All artists, and particularly the creator/producer duo, deserve props for their multi-talents and top notch production values. Soular Power'd is a classy production with high entertainment value and a positive soul. It is family friendly and culturally diverse. It runs Thursdays through Sundays, through November 3. For more information, please click here.

Faith Pilger is a past winner of the Princess Grace Award for modern dance and a graduate of the Juilliard School. She performed at the PG Award ceremony this year in the work of Nancy Bannon, and performs with Jordana Toback in POON. She curates and hosts the Vim Variety Show series at Surf Reality; next show is Friday, November 1, 10 p.m. For more information, please click here.

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