Q&A;: Jabbawockeez dance crew returns to Las Vegas

Jabbawockeez, about as close to hip-hop dance royalty as you're going to get, recently returned to Las Vegas to reclaim a throne no one bothered to try to pick up.

The ever-evolving group -- which will perform in Long Beach in November at the Carpenter Performing Arts Center -- now has a home at the Jabbawockeez Theater in the Luxor Hotel and Casino with a new show called "Prism." Directed by award-winning choreographers Tabitha and Napoleon D'umo, "Prism" melds lighting trickery with dancing and a bit more of a storytelling vibe than did the group's first show. 

After winning the first season of MTV's now-defunct show "Randy Jackson presents America's Best Dance Crew," the masked Jabbawockeez spread its  brand with commercials, movies appearances, a memorable number with Shaquille O'Neal at the 2009 NBA All-Star game, and a show on the Las Vegas Strip at the MGM Grand (later the Monte Carlo) called "Mus I.C."

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The dancers went on the road to Australia, Atlantic City and many points in between with their signature hip-hop moves, before returning to Las Vegas with more stage experience.

Their grand opening a few weeks ago incorporated the recent head-kick moment by crooner Miguel on a fan at the 2013 Billboard Awards, just an example of the timeliness and malleability of the show. 

Culture Monster caught up with two members of the dance crew, Joe "Punkee" Larot and Rynan "Kid Rainen" Paguio, to see how the new show and the group have grown since their dance-battling days.

How did the grand opening, now in your own venue, go for you?

Rynan "Kid Rainen" Paguio: Personally, it felt good. The audience was really great and had a lot of great energy.

How different is "Mus.I.C." from the new "Prism" show?

Joe "Punkee" Larot: This one is more theatrical, more story-based. "Mus.I.C" was sort of a hit list of all of our stuff mixed in together ... a collage of stuff we did back in the day. This one we had a chance to storyboard it and dig deep into the costumes and the concepts.

Paguio: When we did Mus I.C. before, it was our introduction to Las Vegas. It was really just a show to entertain the crowd.  This time, when we put together Prism, it was more like an [evolution] of who we are over the past two years as far as understanding the crowd in Vegas and also just evolving what we wanted to do as far as dancing. It's a bit of a better version of Mus I.C.

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You've gone around the country and overseas as a group and performed. How does that experience inform the new show?

Paguio: We've gotten to experience different crowds and different humor. In Atlantic City, some of the jokes didn't hit. We went to Australia and some of the jokes worked over there. So wherever we were, we'd have to put in local jokes just to cater to the local crowds. Most of what we learned is just how to react to different crowds, and how they respond to the different things that we do. So for "Prism," we mashed up all of our great ideas.

There seems to be a lot more crowd interaction too.

Paguio: The crowd interaction is definitely just to get them more into the show. At "MusI.C.," you definitely brought the crowd into it a little bit at a time. We were just getting our feet wet. Wondering "Will it work? Should we try this out? Do we think that this might fly?" Well, since we've been performing for the past 2 1/2 years, not just in Vegas, it really helped us to understand that these jokes will work, but audience participation will really get the crowd to stay awake. When people first see/come to the show, the first thing they think is "Wow, how are you just dance for 60 minutes or 90 minutes?" Then they come to the show and they get it -- they finally get the picture.

Where do you see hip-hop dance now as opposed to when you started?

Larot: I think it helped when dance was put on a platform with reality shows. "So You Think You Can Dance," "ABDC" ... it boomed the dancing culture.  Now that "ABDC" isn't there anymore, they're starting to gravitate toward "American Idol" or "America's Got Talent" as well as various other forms of entertainment. My experience, though, is that hip-hop is going wide around the world.  You find it a lot in Asia. They're catching up with it and really taking it to a whole different level. I'm thinking they'll be creating their own styles soon and hopefully taking it to a stage like Vegas.

Paguio: If you really look at what hip-hop was up until now, especially internationally, there's just so much of a difference. So many people are into hip-hop dance and the culture. Places like France and Korea, where they have hip-hop shows, they kind of see it in a much broader picture. Whereas in the U.S., it's just starting.  Even though we started this dancing back in the '70s, and it boomed in the '70s and '80s, then all of a sudden it died out -- I feel like it's starting back up again to where now you're seeing things like "America's Best Dance Crew." ... What I'm hoping for in the future is just to see more theatrical shows, more stuff on TV that really represents dance as a movement and as a culture.  Even though people may hate on certain shows -- "America's Best Dance Crew" and "So You Think You Can Dance" and any show that comes out on TV -- underground hip-hop people see it as being mainstream, but for the most part, it's helping our culture stay alive and for people to see it.  We just hope that the platform we started just grows from there.

Where do you want to see the "Prism" show go -- what kind of growth can we expect from this go-round?

Larot: A good example of that was the Miguel "Adorn" thing. We had the show up and running, but when it happened, we jumped on it.  We're going to keep evolving and be inspired by what the world is doing ... being organic to the world and finding creative ways to relate to it.

Paguio: We changed stuff so much [in "Mus I.C."] because as dancers and as artists we always wanted to better the show. We always want to make it better. After our soft open, we've already made changes to choreography, to music, even to some sound effects that we thought would sound better with the surround-sound of the new theater.  Prism will just keep getting to be a better show. Hopefully taking it to the next level, touring the show kind of like how we did with "Mus I.C."


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