Monday, October 09, 2006

Rize up and Krump

Ms. Write Again Soon, thirsty for something to distract herself from her drunken weekend, has pointed out to me that the WP had a review of a performance by Tommy and the Hip Hop Clowns on Saturday which I caught with Ms. Blue Like Mine and TraniLuver. I do want to talk more about all the great concerts I've been to, so I guess this is a good time to cover something I've just been to.

Sadly, I'm not sure I can be even as nice as Sarah Kaufman in her review, which opened:

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.

She goes on to discuss how Tommy's Hip Hop Clowns spawned dozens of offshoot dance crews, and perhaps that is where Tommy rubbed me a bit the wrong way. Don't get me wrong, I am a huge fan of both what he started, and the stunning and intense dancing itself.

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.

As for the dancing itself, I'm content to turn back to seeing Rize again, which captures the mood, energy, and emotion stunningly. Where David LaChappelle has always had a knack at making succulent pop images and music videos, dripping with excess, he's not much of a documentarian. I left the movie riveted, but asking fundamental questions ("So, if I drove through South Central, would everyone have face paint on?") that left me wishing PBS or NPR had given him a hand.

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).

This has nothing to do with krump, but how about traveling to Egypt (super-ancient momuments, culture, desert)? Thailand (food, culture, beachs)? Chile (Navy boy S.O. said it was a lovely country and the whores were nice)?
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