Monday, October 09, 2006
Rize up and Krump
You can't be down on Tommy the Clown. I mean, it's almost enough that he wears a rainbow wig the size of a cumulus cloud, a signature look of candy-colored puffiness that telegraphs warm and fuzzy love.
But not only does Tommy dress like a child's dream of fun, with the hair and the face paint and the baggy, spangly clothes (and a few sleight-of-hand tricks up his big sleeves), he's the role model for kids who need it most. Nearly 15 years ago, Tommy the Clown, ne Thomas Johnson, grew his hip-hop-centric birthday-party act into the dance phenomenon known as krumping. He'd invite the kids he'd meet in the worst parts of Los Angeles, where he was based, to turn away from violence and join him in dancing their aggressions away. As krumping grew, with its blend of hip-hop and b-boy (break dance) moves and an added jolt of fierce emotional release, Tommy became a benevolent godfather to prospective gangbangers, offering his "crew" as an alternative to South Central's Crips and Bloods.
On the first, the performance was dead-on. I forgave him (almost) for the preaching and praying, and was happy to pay the impressive $50 admission for orchestra seats to support his cause. What he has done for a legion of youth was and is wonderful.
Still, Rize remains high on my list of movies for those seeking to expand their cultural literacy by exposure to that which is far from familiar. Plus it is highly entertaining and beautiful to watch.
Thankfully, Tommy saved the show with the second half, which finally took on some air of a performance, recreating a Battle Zone dance-off originally done in LA. Finally, the Hip Hop Clowns had a chance to really strut. The audience played in well, and I can only imagine it would have been better if the house were packed.
My favorite, of course, was Casper, the one white member of the group. He was attractive, playful, and above all else very good at his trade. [I think this is him on youtube.] And of course, it brought back memories of the battle dancing we (and La on a Stick) were such fans of at Nation before it closed its doors.
Tommy's attempt to tell the story of Krumping (and of his dancers) ultimately failed. As the self-appointed founder and leader of the movement, he walks the line of too much self-praise that skews his perspective. I can't say I know any better, because Rize was equally weak in that regard.
This was apparently their first performance on the road. Hopefully they will have a chance to turn their show into what it really needs to be--a fully entertaining performance. A better choice of venues (Strathmore as a modern performance hall is a bit snobby for what they were trying to accomplish; and Bethesda, the lap of posh, shouldn't be the crowds they are seeking to entertain), more affordable tickets, and some better community outreach could go a long way.
Until Nation has an adequate replacement, if interested, check out the movie (or perhaps my Halloween costume).