Hip-hopping along the cusp between rock nostalgia and folklore-of-the-future, “Shockin’ the House: Two Decades of L.A. Street Dance” flattened a capacity L.A. Festival audience at the Vision Complex on Wednesday with an ecstatic cavalcade of local African-American movement display.
Veteran performer-choreographer Toni Basil filled the program booklet with history lessons and put the living artifacts onstage. Early street-dance icons such as the Lockers re-created seminal routines. Paragons of disco style such as Andrew Frank posed outrageously, wreathed in chiffon and drop-dead attitude. Powerhouse virtuosi such as T.C. Diamond and Wayne (Crescendo) Ward threw gymnastics, barrel turns, mid-air (stag-style) collisions, anything into their dancing, pushing for maximum risk and excitement.
The event offered a whole autograph book of signature steps--starting with the awesomely disjointed Poppin’ Pete having his slinky way with Beethoven’s Fifth. If you chose, you could see all this brilliant (and usually undeveloped) creativity in sociological terms--as an avenue to positive self-definition in a society with increasingly grim prospects for African-American males.
In this context, the incredible bravado of the shadow-boxing, bumping/grinding Godfathers or the stomping, flipping, dodging Housing Authority or, especially, the incomparably loose, wild, Soul Brothers generated a double dose of liberation. It not only achieved a flash point of indelible personal expression for the participants but a powerful connection to the not-so-black, not-so-young, not-so-marginalized audience.
This generosity may have been the evening’s biggest surprise. When show business appropriates street dance, it inevitably hardens into stances of intimidation or smug self-aggrandizement. They dance. You dog-yelp. Basil opted for something deeper and more authentic.
By providing plenty of time for the gentle giant Skeeter Rabbitt, as well as Fatima’s showstopping group of kiddie hip-hoppers, she managed to show the warmth fueling the flash, giving the evening the feel of a community homecoming. From a ballerina in a peekaboo tutu (Carol Guidry) to the Deena Queens Drill Team, everybody was made welcome.
Formal choreography wasn’t exactly the focus of “Shockin’ the House,” but Terri Bixler’s tautly focused chair-and-handkerchief trio certainly earned its encore as executed by the sensational Swoop, Hugo Huizer and Kevin (K.C.) Columbus. And for every major showcase of this sort, Basil allowed glimpses of unexplored riches: dancers who momentarily devastated you with their beauty, talent or style but never claimed the spotlight.
Indispensable, unsung hero of the occasion: deejay (disc jockey) Julio Gonzalez.