Rhythm Nation: New street performance group brings back the carnivalesque

From the Oct. 15 issue of the Charleston City Paper:

On the surface, this story is about the creation of a new live performance company. It comprises an array of artists focused on forms of movement new and old — breakdancing, hula hooping, bellydancing, capoeira, acrobatics, and juggling.

Each artist has been working in Charleston for some time now. Their most high-profile performances thus far have probably been the two Kulture Klashes that also featured visual artists — graffiti, pop, and contemporary — and beer.

“It made perfect sense” to join forces says Ryan Becknell of Hipnotik Bodyrock. In August, he and fellow Bodyrock breakdancer Josef Kirk Myers joined this motley crew of tastemakers to establish Rogue Dynamic Productions. The group, known as RDP, is an “alternative arts group with street cred,” Becknell says “that’s theater-worthy.”

Other key figures include Patrick Brown, a member of the Charleston Capoeira Team; Sarah Markusich of Qabeelah, a “tribal fusion” bellydance troupe; Kacey Douglas and Kristen Clapper of Homespun Hoops, who unlock the potential of hula hoops; and Efrain Eduardo Martinez Avila, a master of poi, a kind of fire juggling that originates from Pacific island cultures.

The group is “theater-worthy,” because it has designs on creating “themed productions” in a variety of locations. RDP wants to take the extemporaneous spirit and competitive urge of street dancing, harness and mold it, and then present it in a more formal format.

The result is RDP’s first performance at the Daily Dose. A “ring master” will emcee a revue. The title, A Dark Circus, indicates the theme: mysterious and nebulous forces culminating in creativity, revelry, debasement, and debauchery.

“It’s gonna be dark,” Becknell says.

That’s the news. Here are the ideas.

With fewer venues to perform in, and parking issues a constant source of worry, RDP’s ability to move and adapt to a variety of locations gives it an advantage in Charleston’s entertainment scene.

There’s the party vibe, too, but this isn’t just a pleasant add-on. That RDP presents shows with an inherent social dimension is part of its spirit and an echo of the sensibility of the generation that constitutes RDP.

That is, Gen Y or the Millenniel Generation, coming of age after the advent of the internet and wireless technology. Millenniels believe in the wisdom of crowds. Like MySpace and Facebook, RDP wants you to engage — to be an active audience.

Which leads us to the second idea, collaboration.

A key trait of street dance is competition, and it sows the seeds of artistic growth. Competition explains how we’ve gone, over the past 20 years, from breakdancing to popping-and-locking to krumping.

“We push each other, we compete, to create new movement,” Becknell says. “Discovery brings us together. It creates a vision of what can be. Who doesn’t want to break the mold of the ‘weekend warrior’ who goes back to work Monday?”

And with that phrase — “break the mold” — you have a third idea: subversion. Or, as Mikhail Bakhtin, the Russian literary critic, might have said, “the carnivalesque.”

In Rabelais and His World, Bakhtin wrote that people in the Middle Ages lived two lives — an “official life” and a “licensed life.” The latter was played out during carnival, a season spanning in medieval Europe as much as three months out of the year.

One life was “full of terror, dogmatism, reverence, and piety; the other was the life of the carnival square, free and unrestricted, full of ambivalent laughter, blasphemy, the profanation of everything … familiar contact with everything.”

If the “official” life doesn’t sound familiar by now, you haven’t been paying attention.

The carnival was also egalitarian, Bakhtin wrote, because “the central arena could only be the square, for by its very idea carnival belongs to the whole people, it is universal, everyone must participate.”

You can see why RDP might reflect the spirit of the carnival, and why we need something like it today.

It brings people together who might not ordinarily do so. It inspires innovation vis-à-vis collaboration. It celebrates diversity and camaraderie and hope (and beer!).

And by taking its eclectic act to a public arena like the Daily Dose, with many more planned for the future (each cast in themes ranging from pirates to ninjas), RDP undermines the statue quo, at least a little bit, if perhaps only in a strong symbolic sense.

“We’re reaching for something,” Becknell says. “It’s going to be crazy and twisted.

“It’s going to be a circus-style spectacular that reaches for the dark corners of the imagination.”

November 10, 2008 6:35 AM | | Comments (0)

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