Thursday, December 3, 2009

Dance in New Media: Cirque du Soleil & Beatles "Love"

Today's example of dance in new media - Cirque du Soleil and the Beatles' Love - is actually presented in a traditional forum - the theater stage. Although this is a traditional venue, the aesthetic approach is very novel. Premiering in 2006 and currently performed at the Mirage Hotel's Love Theater in Las Vegas, Love is the artful mesh created by bringing street dancing into the same arena as the circus arts. It fuses elements of bboying and popping with acrobatics to convey concrete emotions in abstract set pieces. (Photo above is taken from the Wikipedia entry for the show.)

You can see the official website for "Love" here:

The show is an abstract emotional journey through the music of the Beatles. Set in non-chronological order, we follow various characters through set pieces originating from well-known songs such Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds and Eleanor Rigby. While there isn't a concrete narrative, the Cirque creators pieced together a compelling palette of acrobatics, street dance, extreme sports, clowning and pantomime. For street dancers, what we see is a new perspective on our styles as seen through a different lens. Take the Walrus character as an example. The title hero from I Am the Walrus appears as an energetic, tatooed free spirit who cavorts around the stage. He uses elements of waving, body isolations, and dimestops in his performance. For a show that has a cast of many colorful characters, it's flattering to see this Walrus character being embodied by a street dance performer. His dance becomes the signature of his personality. And by this distinction, he stands out. It's a wonderful realization to see a concrete character created from an amalgam of popping-inspired movements.

Bboying takes center stage during the Something piece in which a shirtless man finds himself bouncing back and forth between four female high-wire acrobats. As George Harrison sings the lyrics, our male hero on stage covers the floor with seamless floorwork, freezes, and power moves that convey his emotional turmoil. He can't hold on to any of the ladies floating in and out of his life. Perhaps he's racked by the fleeting nature of young love. The female high-wire acrobats swing to and fro around him, often just passing barely out of his grasp as they fly higher into the air on their trapezes. There are moments where are hero finds a brief second of human contact with a female companion. But it doesn't last. And it's heartbreaking. Rarely have we seen bboying used to convey emotions in a story context, especially the fragile nature of young love.

So what does this mean for street dancing in this new theatrical context? It means that we can reinterpret bboying, popping, and locking in a storytelling format while bringing something new to the table. The dynamic nature of Love makes street dance a welcome part of the show, as it adds a degree of performance that circus arts can't provide. Perhaps the Cirque creators realized this when they conceived of the show. The raw energy and illusional nature of our styles fits very well in this context without relying on a "street" or "urban" exterior. After all, Love isn't tied to traditionally seen hip hop locales such as Brooklyn or the Bronx. Maybe it took the outside perspective of the Cirque creators to bring our street dance styles to this new stage. They've reinterpreted them and opened the door for new stories to tell.

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