Hip Hop Across The Pillow at Jacobs Pillow

A Festival inside the 2023 Summer Dance Festival

By: - Aug 07, 2023

Hip Hop Across The Pillow ~ A Festival Inside the 2023 Dance Festival:
Curated by Melanie George and Ali Rosa-Salas 

Hooting, yelling, and clapping is encouraged to move Hip Hop dancers to their higher self during collective or individual parts. Only then, they show the audience and each other all they can do! And they did! The delightful young PR assistant at the Pillow  had lost her voice the night before during a party to celebrate the week-long performances. We were lucky enough to experience the festival during their last show, at least by stomping or moving our ‘feets’ and bodies to the persistent drum beat of Hip Hop sounds, songs, and music.

During the first piece, a literal interpretation or, well, close to it by Kwikstep and Rokafella is titled Thief of Hearts: A duo of thieves break into a museum to steal the biggest diamond there is – also from each other! Clad in black, of course, in a very dark and hazy environment they move to the beat individually and together and steal the diamond from the brightly lit pedestal and from each other back and forth. They were the only couple of dancers who used head support to perform the ubiquitous  hip hop head spins. The woman first, then the man did a very long spin that kept the audience in awe. Meanwhile, she snuck away with the ‘diamond’ in her possession.  Finally, bowing to the audience, while the 'diamond,' one more time, changes hands or back-packs. “To be continued….” Both dancers are also choreographers for this work. The Lighting designers are Mark Roxey and Julie Ballard, Music Mix DJ KS360 with various samplings.

Now, that was fun! Easy to understand by a very mixed audience by which I mean, the audience ranged from ages five to, well, ninety-five perhaps.

Hip Hop turned fifty plus years old, we learned. It is a truly American dance form, meanwhile exported around the world. And since elevated from the streets or communities to the stage. Two pieces were commissioned by Jacobs Pillow in 2023. The first one, Thief of Hearts, as above, and Parable of PassAge, both World Premieres, and the Parable was made possible by the Joan B. Hunter New Work Commission. Joan Hunter plays a big role in the Berkshires for the arts. And we are grateful!

The Parable of PassAge, was choreographed by d. Sabela grimes, in collaboration with the Ladies of Hip-Hop. Lighting Design, Julie Ballard; Video Projection Design by Sirius Shape Shifters (d. Sabela grimes, Meena Murugesan); Costume Design by Kia McCormick and d. Sabela grimes; Music by d. Sabela grimes (‘All goodness in,’ performed and written by Usual Rucker); Ladies of Hip-Hop Director: Michele Byrd-McPhee; Dancers: Iman Brooks, Jai’Quin Coleman, Reyna Nunez, Imani Arrington. Here the new stage video projection system at the Ted Shawn Theatre shines with complex visuals in a rather poetic environment using Octavia Butler’s words.

The four women, in colorful tunics and wide pants, move in hip hop and with African dance steps alone and in pairs changing partners continually. Then, in Parabel of the Sower the women return in somewhat confounding costumes. Perhaps, the many individual long and short snake like colorful strands which covered and uncovered the dancers bodies were accentuating the many snake like movements of hip hop……

After intermission all hell broke loose! Nuttin’ But A Word, 2016. Choreographer, Founder, & Artistic Director, Rennie Harris, appeared in short videos. He has had encore invitations with his dancers to The Pillow since 2000.  In one video he spoke of saving a man’s life by announcing a performance. The man had wanted to kill himself that evening, yet did not. He went to the hip hop performance instead and found something to live for. Harris also prefers naming hip hop a community dance rather than a street dance form now present in thousands of communities all over the US and the world. He used in Nuttin’ But A Word only community dance movements and he defined the three laws of hip hop culture as: innovation, individuality and creativity, which in turn ensures progress in each generation. Does he perhaps represent the generation of original hip hop innovators? 

Production Supervisor & Lighting Designer is Julie Bollard; Music Mixer and Editor: Darrin Ross; Rennie Harris Pure Movement (dancers):  Angel Anderson, Alanzo Carter, Kyle Clark, Joshua Culbreath, Phillip Cuttino Jr., Fyness Mason, Emily Pietruzska, Andrew Ramsey, Rachel Snider, Maggie Waller. Suite of Works: Continuum, The Word…, A Day in the Life,  Doubt & Dolo, Get It!, Students of the Asphalt, Jungle.

The women dancers in black outfits were great! Dancing and moving individually and in concert supported by the audience’s loud reactions to outdo each other, yet always in support of the group! They moved like robots, snake like, hitting the ground and jumping in the air as individuals or as a group! So well rehearsed, yet also driven by individualism.

Then, five men appeared in white pants with their bare chests and they moved with a strength and power, only the male body here could produce. They were short in size to tall, 6 foot and taller. They flipped powerfully across the stage forward and backward, time and again! They became robots and moved like rubber men apparently with 360-degree joints. Ouch!

Finally, all dancers came back on stage and gave one exiting performance in short bits and pieces. What fun!

There are hip hop terms of movements that this writer, a woman, does not know, or need to know in order to be swept away by a powerful production of Hip Hop Across The Pillow!