Monday, January 14, 2013

"Lois Lane"...Keone Madrid

Good art is authentic and vulnerable, like an actor who pours his heart out on stage and allows us to see humanity in all its gritty detail. Think about the difference between an over-produced pop tune and ANYTHING that was recorded by Etta James or Nina Simone. The artist who is BRAVE enough to show us the personal highs and lows of life, is the artist we are drawn to and compelled to watch. Interestingly, hip hop artists who are true to themselves, also find their capacity for genuine confession and confidence with the audience. In this clip, Keone Madrid brilliantly expresses his love for the woman of his life, extolling her virtues and praising her qualities. This is a far cry from the swag and bravado that is typically associated with hip hop battle culture, but it is just as legitimate...because it is REAL.

MUSICALITY: For the purposes of this blog, the word "musicality" implies a broad definition, a range of inspiration that extends from a simple heartbeat or breath, to full blown orchestral production with gospel choir...and everything in between. Poetry is spoken word that abides to meter, has rhythm...and by extension, musicality. The opening prelude is a fantastic example of the collaboration between the spoken word and physical movement. The manner in which the dancers embody the words (0:24-0:32) and create pictures that augment what we are hearing, is as "musical" as is gets! Another highly musical component of Keone's work, lies in his ability to hear staccato AND legato phrasing in the SAME line of music. Legato notes are held and sustained, while staccato notes are sharp and short...when you watch (3:13-3:29) you will notice one group of dancers following the legato phrasing of the held chords of the keyboard, while another group simultaneously mirrors the staccato tempo of Robin Thicke's vocal line. This kind of musical juxtaposition engenders a sort of visual compliment that works for our ears, as well as our eyes.

DANCER SYNC: Generally speaking, one of the great contributions that hip hop has had on the evolution of contemporary dance, is the notion of "groove" or "funk." Often, you will hear hip hop choreographers talking about "being in the pocket of the beat" or "putting some stank on it." These are synonymous ways of saying that the movement is generated internally, deep within the human soul. Similar to the way traditional African and Native American dancers work themselves into trance-like frenzy around a fire, the hip hop tradition is also intrinsically connected to the root of all movement...the beating of your heart. Moments such as (2:16-2:19) where Keone channels a James Brown shuffle step or (2:28-2:30) where we see the incorporation of a latin basic, show that Keone has a mature understanding that the dance needs to be grounded in the groove, or it will fail. Many choreographers "over-season" their work with a flood of steps and tricks, forgetting that the groove or "pocket" is the basis for everything else.

AUDIENCE ENGAGEMENT: There are a couple of elements that Keone uses to his advantage. The first is silence. Notice how the dancers simply hold their space for over 30 sec (0:39-1:12). For most dancers, whose lives are spent is constant motion...this could feel like eternity. But Keone is intentionally imbuing the piece with tension, realizing that this engaged, pregnant stillness brings the audience to the edge of their seat and piques their interest. The second element that we can observe, is "group isolation." In jazz dance, when we talk about "isolations," we are talking about the ability to move different body parts, while keeping the rest of the body still. However, Keone expands this concept to the entire group, where different members hold their positions. At (3:02-3:12) Keone starts with the group moving in unison, and then demonstrates this idea of "group isolation." Lastly, in terms of holistic composition, Keone taps into the power of repetition. Learning how to use repetition effectively is an important hallmark of mature, quality choreographers. Notice how the solo phrase (1:38-1:49) is brought back in its entirety at (4:29-4:39) but as group moment. All of these compositional elements serve to engage the audience and maintain full viewer participation.

P.S. As a additional bonus, I particularly liked the homage to the Superman "logo reveal" when Clark Kent peels off his pedestrian disguise, and shows his true identity...(3:54-4:02)

KUDOS to Keone for creating a touching, sensitive tribute and simultaneously displaying superb choreographic choices.


  1. Excellent, excellent review. An amazing piece like this really deserves the words up above. I love how you used different art principles and vocabulary to examine this piece. The mention of an actor pouring out their heart on stage, the utilization of both staccato and legato phrasing, and even comparing Hip-Hop to more traditional dance. I look forward to reading more of what you have posted on this blog.

    1. Hey! Glad you enjoyed of my goals for SERVINGCHOREO was to encourage deeper discussion and critique of hip hop works. Many times, the only feedback a hip hop choreographer ever hears will be "that was some dope shit, yo." And I think its important for the hip hop community and the art form, to dig a little deeper and talk about WHY it is successful. This is the only way for the younger gens to learn technique and improve. By the way, I took a look at "Eight Counts" and I really like your writing style. Let me know if you would ever be interested in writing a guest post for SERVINGCHOREO, featuring a choreographer that you find particularly interesting and engaging!!