Cultural industry workers who happened to attend Clas/sick Hip Hop at The Yerba Buena Center for the Arts this weekend, would very likely have been impressed and probably envious of the audience that the performance event combining hip-hop dance with live/DJ’d music led by the violinist Daniel Bernard Roumain attracted.
The crowd was predominantly young (20s and 30s) and very ethnically diverse, but there was also a smattering of people in their 50s and 60s as well as kids as young as 10.
There was something about the fluidity and porosity of the event that strikes me as being very powerful. The first thing that happened was that the big open floor of the YBCA Forum (one of the venue’s two performance arenas) was not treated as a traditional theater, but as a space for dancing. So most people started by moving about to DJ’d electronic music, or first getting a drink from the mobile bar that was set up in front of the DJ podium in one corner of the room, and then dancing, drink in hand.
Then, when the performance actually started, there was no call to attention. A young, female hip-hop dancer simply started doing her thing in one part of the room and automatically, the crowd cleared a space around her. Eventually she finished her dance, and the audience gathered to dance en mass again.
The same thing happened a few more times with more solo dance performances by virtuoso and emerging hip-hop dance artists including hip hop pioneer , trail-blazing b-girl , Montreal’s b-boy , and Bay Area new comers and ,
I didn’t take to all the dance. Some of the performers were more varied and arresting than others. But what I responded to immediately was the spontaneity of the way the room reacted to the performers and the interactions between the soloists and the group at large. In short, we all felt included in the experience.
Later on in the evening, Daniel Bernard Roumain, a fellow violinist, the DJs and the dancers took to the floor for a more formal performance predominated by duets of varied emotional and movement qualities between pairs of dancers. Somehow the audience instinctively knew that it was time to take to the stadium seating that had been set up on all four sides of the auditorium. Even though at this point the experience was more of a traditional performance set up with the audience watching the musicians and dancers do their thing “on stage,” the atmosphere remained charged.
The only let-down was that as soon as this part of the performance was over, the lights went on and everyone was abruptly ushered out into the night. It would have made much more sense for the proceedings to have been allowed to continue with more dancing, drinking and other ad hoc performance interventions for a while longer.
Still, the effect was overall strongly galvanizing. I don’t know if the elements of fluidity and porosity were responsible for attracting audiences in such large numbers in any conscious way. But perhaps there’s a subconscious understanding among the community of what an event like Clas/sick Hip Hop might entail. And this is what draws people in.
More arts organizations should take these qualities on board and find ways to make their experiences more fluid and porous.