Sunday, December 2, 2012

"Whistling Spider"...Rhapsody James

Hip Hop, as a genre, is currently moving into new, unexplored territory. When the hip hop community was born in the late 70's, it was a subculture that served as an artistic conduit for struggling urban youth, giving them credibility and self-esteem. By the 90's, corporations and media moguls had realized the vast commercial potential that hip hop possessed on the mainstream market, and sought to maximize profits from this street credible revenue stream. But today, a growing number of hip hop artists/choreographers/musicians are looking to elevate the genre beyond a simplistic marketing gimmick. Because hip hop, at its essence, is about artistic expression. Rhapsody James, understands the history, the community, and the economics of the art form...but she also understands the need for purity in expression. As a hip hop choreographer, she seeks to use her choreography as a tool to transcend people's perception of hip hop simply being a vehicle for selling records/fashion/movies. Instead, she is actively exploring hip hop's capacity for creating mood, changing attitudes, and making it accessible to the widest audience possible.

MUSICALITY: In this excerpt, Rhapsody focuses heavily on the amplified clap effects of beats 3 and 7. While this rhythmic pattern is relatively common within hip hop loops, her interpretation of this auditory cue is fascinating. Early in the piece, she introduces a full body hop (1:27-1:28). This subtle image is wonderfully effective in suggesting an insect-like quality to the movement. Furthermore, sometimes she extends this idea by utilizing sequential quarter note runs prior to the accented hits. For example, she might do six, small isolated gestures on beats 1-6 followed by the concrete strength of beat 7. Watch the phrase from (2:05-2:11) to see this technique clearly on display. This is a fantastic demonstration of choreography reflecting (and expanding) the musical structure of the track.

DANCER SYNC: I have spoken to a number of dancers who have worked with Rhapsody, and one of the most consistent things I hear in regard to her work is the notion of synchronicity. Synchronicity is the ability to create movement that "fits" the dancer and feels good to dance. Rhapsody, is a strong believer in the philosophy that EVERY body can dance. She is one of the most inclusive choreographers I know, and seeks to inspire movement in all dancers, regardless of body type, weight, size or shape. She is truly interested in finding the choreography that highlights unique individuality. Notice how she incorporates the natural long and lean physicality of the first dancer's arms and legs to compliment the opening string section. Also, watch how the unison moments work for ALL the dancers, and no one looks out of place or made to look uncomfortable. Even though the dancers are of different shapes and sizes, each dancer is able to dig into the movement with ferocity and attack the phrase with equal intensity.

AUDIENCE ENGAGEMENT: Many people have seen modern or contemporary dance pieces and scratched their heads in bewilderment, saying to themselves, "I just don't get it." On the other hand, hip hop has often become so populist that it leaves nothing to the imagination and becomes almost cheesy and formulaic. However, Rhapsody is a master at creating pieces that are accessible to a wide audience, yet are still able to challenge and engage. This is a very difficult and delicate balance to achieve, and yet she makes it look easy. Theme and variation is one of the choreographic devices that she uses effectively to create this sweet spot. At (1:39-1:44) she introduces a simple phrase that involves hand placement on the floor. And then at (2:27-2:37) she recapitulates this phrase by building it into a frontal unison moment with all the dancers in a line. However, more than this, by skillfully exploring a concept of "spider" through movement, she is able to create a piece of choreography that is accessible to a wide range of audience members, from novice viewers to seasoned dance connoisseurs. If you need any further proof of this, check out what she does with the idea of "ostrich"

KUDOS to Rhapsody for serving choreo that is inclusive to everyone and excludes no one.

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