Really Cool Stuff From Korea, Japan, and Brazil!

Fun but busy weekend. I attended two very different kinds of dance competitions and saw some really amazing stuff. Last night, I went to the Tribeca Drive-In at the Tribeca Film Festival, to see a new film, Planet B-Boy, a documentary that follows the lives of the members of four teams of break-dancers culminating in a big worldwide competition, held yearly in Germany. I’m so glad I saw this — it exposed me to a whole culture I didn’t really know existed. I knew about break-dancing on a very basic level, but didn’t know it was such a huge thing world-wide now. Like soccer / international football, it’s not very big in the U.S., but in this case that’s rather ridiculous since we started the dance…

Anyway, these international team competitions involve some of the most incredible dancing. It’s so much more gymnastic than I ever knew — some of these dancers I’d swear had formal training in the sport. In addition to super athletic floor-work, they do these amazing acrobatic stunts — lifting each other, leap-frogging over a sea of bodies, building human pyramids from which they perform spectacular jumps, and dance with such character and, yes, beauty, and artistry. Each team is judged on its synchronization (about eight dancers doing same moves in complete unison), artistry and technique of individual dancers, and conceptual idea of team theme. Each team came up with a theme that illuminated an aspect of their culture — I thought the Korean and Japanese teams were by far the most original. The Koreans, who basically own this dance nowdays, were just incredible. They really have to be seen to be believed — so go see this movie when it hits the theaters!

Like in student ballroom-dancing documentary Mad Hot Ballroom, filmmaker Benson Lee goes beyond this particular competition to explore the larger meaning of dance — freedom of expression and individuality, keeping young people out of trouble by giving them a creative outlet, and, interesting to me since it’s mainly men who break dance, allowing the dancers to act out aggression in a safe way. Watching the movie – -and the pre-film break-dance demos shown in the photos above — I realized how breaking was like a dance version of the rapping jams seen in Eminem’s movie 8-Mile in the way that the dancers taunt and mock each other — jokingly and without touching each other — before each round of competition, the teasing actually becoming an art in itself. And, being a globally-set movie, cultural / political issues are explored. My favorite part, filmed in Korea at the border between North and South, was when the “guards,” gravely serious and bearing frighteningly large weapons, suddenly break into dance! And, like with Mad Hot Ballroom, you find yourself rooting so hard for one team, you almost become teary-eyed at the end. It’s really a lot of fun — go!

Today, I went with Dea, my friend from Brazil who I met on the Winger, to the Youth America Grand Prix ballet competition, founded by Gennadi Saveliev from American Ballet Theater. Dea’s former ballet studio in Sao Paulo was competing in the group ensemble competition and she wanted to go watch them.

Above is Dea, inside the competition, which was held in the auditorium of Martin Luther King High School. Below is a picture of goings-on outside in front of the school — some dancers warming up, applying makeup, and hanging out after their piece. We were strictly forbidden from taking pictures inside — the head judge even threatened people with camera confiscation! — so, as soon as Gennadi posts the pics on his website, I’ll see if there’s anything I can link to that I saw.

Well, I’ve been to about a bizillion ballroom competitions now, but this was my very first Ballet comp. It was so fun! We only saw the ensemble competitions — apparently the solos have been going on for the past three days — but I saw some really good dancing from some very young people, and some very interesting, novel choreography. This Japanese school, consisting of four girls, wheeled some backless, rolling stools out onto the stage, and the girls used the chairs in amazing ways — arching over them and spinning, standing atop them on one leg, kneeling on one hand and one knee and lifting the opposite arm and leg high in the air — talk about balance! Acting was involved too, as the girls laughed, cried, and screamed — very expressive and perhaps a bit over the top but dramatic and emotionally compelling in its own way.

And about a quarter of all the teams were from Brazil! Poor Dea kept getting up go to the bathroom, but when the next team — yet another Brazilian one — was announced, she’d have to sit back down to watch. The Brazilian teams were all so diverse. One did a spectacularly synchronized traditional Irish step dance with gorgeously decorative costumes — Dea said she didn’t even know Irish step dancing was taught in Brazil! One, which received massive applause, did a contemporary piece danced to techno music, one danced to traditional Bossa Nova — Dea and several people sitting around me sang along with the lyrics and I felt dumb not knowing them :) , and one — my personal favorite — did this really cool combination flamenco / paso doble / belly dance / Martha Graham — it was a true original and I LOVED it, though others felt there was too much going on and it was just weird. Dea’s school did a contemporary ballet danced on pointe. I think her school had technically the best dancers and their choreography was original as well with some humorous moments, but I still loved the crazy fun everything-but-the-kitchen-sink number :)

It’ll be interesting to see who won. Hopefully Dea’s school! Tomorrow night at City Center the winners will perform along with professionals. I went to this show last year and it was really nice. Marcelo danced with Sofiane Sylve from New York City Ballet in the pro part, and David Hallberg danced in a pas de trois from Le Corsaire. I think David is dancing again this year, but Marcelo’s not on the list. Dea’s going but I still haven’t decided if I will. Going to all this stuff gets expensive!

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