When bkSOUL and Collective Purpose presented “Hip Hop Saved My Life” in 2009, their fresh combination of hip hop movement, live music and poetry washed away old thoughts of mother –f—— filthy, violent rap culture like a warm spring rain.
The troupes remain tightly connected and focused on life affirming and loving expressions that both purists and your mom can enjoy. The evening-length “Love H.E.R.” that kicked off the Live Arts Festival’s ten day run at the White Box was a provocative twerk-free family zone with some sharp edges to keep it authentic, or in hip-hop-speak, real.
Without profanity, misogyny and baggy pants dragging things down, the work introduced a diverse extended family – highly educated men and women, parents, professors, activists, students, and children -immersed in dynamic hip hop culture. The genre is known to degrade women, yet without sinking to sanitized pop, “Love H.E.R.” promoted the feminine and nurturing roots of hip hop through innovative dance, song, and verse, a sort of communal, interactive, hip hop cabaret.
Choreographer/dancer grace shinhae jun of bkSOUL is now married to guitarist/singer Jesse Mills. As scholars, educators, and as a couple, they are reinventing, although grace is still hung up on a green warmup jacket and giant gray sweatpants.
Their two adorable children and other tots joined the celebratory cypher, along with dancers, poets, musicians, extended families, and a very large crowd. A few young men who were not in the cast popped, locked, and undulated with aplomb.
Jun’s choreography, a combination of hip hop, urban, and contemporary styles, played with classic syncopations and jazzy beats, but didn’t detract from the poets or singers. As potent words flowed, she and her dancers pressed and struggled behind them, akin to a Greek chorus. Mills was the anchor on guitar and solid vocals, swinging his long coiled hair to the beat. He was most striking when he pushed his voice into emotional falsetto.
Poet Ant Black (Anthony Blacksher) and jazz vocalist Shivon Carreno (in a turquoise dress and radiant red hair) enticed the crowd to sing along in the piece “Fall in Love,” directing half to sing a phrase, and the other to answer, with fine results.
Mr. Black and Kendrick Dial explored “F” words – the intimacy of fatherhood and carrot barf, along with the importance of forgiveness. Dial joined B-boy Nick Zavala in “Never Enough” set to music by The Lyrical Groove, an over-modulated recorded version.
Zavala drew cheers for one-handed spins, and acrobatic bursts that seemed impossibly high. A slight man in a big shirt and ball cap on backwards, he popped straight up as if launched by an invisible trampoline or electric shock.
The handsome dancer/choreographer Jaime Nixon was the standout in ensembles and duets. He has worked with top contemporary dance companies and gave jun’s nimble dances extra pop and elegant expression.
A fearless Miesha “Ocean” Rice-Wilson embodied the strength and beauty of women and delivered verse with the passion of a mother bear. “Some of us are born for this!” she boomed. With her hair twisted atop her head and fingers flicking, she challenged the crowd to rise up for women and peace. She seemed to grow taller and stronger with every line, and we did too.
If you missed this production, mark your calendar for late Sept. when grace shinae jun brings her urban fervor to Trolley Dances, the site-specific adventure along the tracks.
Live Arts Festival 2014 runs April 15-27, 2014, at the White Box, (no shows on the 20th & 21st). 2590 Truxtun Road. Tickets $20. Festival Pass $100. http://www.sandiegodancetheater.org/