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Illstyle & Peace Productions

By Heather Wisner

Lincoln Hall, Portland State University
March 21–23, 2013

 

By the time you read this, Philadelphia hip-hop company Illstyle & Peace Productions will likely be traveling through Russia, the Ukraine, and Belarus as one of four companies chosen by the U.S. State Department to represent America on the Dance Motion USA tour.

 

But just prior to that trip, the company took an unexpected detour to Portland, Oregon, where dance presenters White Bird booked them as a last-minute replacement for Contemporary Ballet of Algiers/Abou Lagraa, which had to cancel its U.S. tour due to visa and security issues. Replacement though it may have been, Illstyle, in its West Coast debut got a warm reception for its program “Same Spirit Different Movement, Part II: IMpossible IZZpossible,”
which it will also perform on the tour.

Alonzo Carter in Mime Poppin, Courtesy White Bird

 

Choreographed principally by artistic director Brandon “Peace” Albright, this collection of solos, duets,, and ensemble works makes pointed reference to the African roots from which so much of American dance has grown. Tapper extraordinaire Reggie Myers opens with Homage 2 Tap, which begins with a video montage on some of tap’s brightest stars, from the Nicholas Brothers to Gregory Hines, and steadily builds momentum from seamlessly executed tap basics to eye-opening feats, as when Myers rolls his ankles outward until the outsides of his tap shoes brush the floor.

 

From there, the backdrop gives way to photos of the African plains, a map of the continent, and video footage of African dancers and hip-hoppers. Tap, jazz, ballet, and acrobatics thread through the movement, but Illstyle’s strong suit is old-school breaking and hip-hop. Highlights include a skills showdown between Damon Holley and Joseph Ingram that morphs into unison movement, Albright’s fluidly articulated limbs in a solo turn, and a disco-inspired robot dance. In the highly energized ensemble numbers that bookend the show, up-rocking shares space with walking handstands, running handsprings, and physically daring inverted lifts. A narrative bit suggesting a romantic breakup shows how pop-locking has the power to freeze-frame every iota of emotion.

 

This program is a reminder that, like every other kind of dance, hip-hop has changed over time, moving from street dance to full-length theatrical narrative (witness Rennie Harris’ Rome and Jewels). As a former member of Harris’ company, Albright has experienced his share of creative tinkering. Here, he not only traces hip-hop’s path, he points to a kind of artistic middle ground where dancers and dancemakers are increasingly converging, taking cues from one another.

 

Albright closes the show by asking the crowd to repeat after him, “Peace, love and respect for everyone,” and inviting members of the crowd to join the dance onstage. With that generous spirit, solid technique, and a distinctly American voice, the company should be fine ambassadors abroad.