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The Elements of Bruno Beltrão/Grupo de Rua de Niteroi in H3

H3 by Bruno Beltrão at the Walker Thursday, February 11th- Saturday, February 13th.

The entrance. The footwork. The freeze. The exit.
DJ. Rap. Break. Graffiti.

The first are the codified segments of breakdancing (you can read more from Sally Banes).
The second are the elements of hip hop (granted, there may be more).

H3 by Bruno Beltrão is utter movement that can move from the tip of the skull and rock down through the veins, integrated and embodied in a spare (empty stage) and full (of swagger) intimacy. Meticulous accuracy through the tiniest trails of muscle make the aim of Beltrão’s focus undeniable. We know where we are supposed to look and what we are supposed to see -  a hold in a violent image: kicks toward a still, blasé head that never land; fingers as guns; punches near the space of ears; a foot held, stomp-ready over the crotch of another man.

We know age by – what? Appearance? A certain energy?  Without speaking we can name: young, old, elder, infant. And we know violence by – what? Impact? Result? And what if violence makes no impact – no bruise, no blood – if swagger and bravado and kicks don’t actually cause pain we still see violence. Is the violence here, in H3, rooted in the history of breaking? Or the history of the world? Or the imagination of Bruno Beltrão? Is the youth necessary to this dance? Are young bodies the only ones that can move this way? Or is it important for us to see this effort, this dance as necessary to the men performing it? They certainly perform in an all-encompassing, almost devotional character. What elements are needed for this commitment (for any commitment)?

The heads that shake are earth shattering. We know by witnessing there is an effect to this kind of action. Time is essential here. No one move or sequence lasts long. And, there is the time of youth. Here, ever present. Timing is essential – the relationships between bodies and space that build and break in a matter of moments are as distressing as they are enticing and in all cases they are impressive. The light moves across the stage like little windows and so I think of sun and again the element of time. In H3 time calls for action. It calls for us to be young and moving and alive and worthy (and male).

I do get a little tired of the stand-offs. The onslaught of men challenging one another and the space around them can become tiresome and though the choreography of duets are intricately laced and the floor patterns are almost single-mindedly circular – which is a nice juxtaposition to the straight edges of violent impulse – the onslaught never ends. When the shirts started to come off I screamed (in my head) “no!  too much of this maleness already!” But see….I screamed too soon, for there is reason for a few bare chests as they arc up to the never ending pulse of time and light.

And pulsing with these men is the sound of their effort. Tennis shoes are a status, a symbol, a costume on-stage and off. Here, they cause that high, rubbery squeak we know from basketball courts. I love that sound and in this dance it creates a secondary map – an aural map that helps our minds see where the action has been, where it could be, and it instills a pleasurable excitement. Like a game, we route for the action happening on stage.

I am delighted with the light that frames a finger then breaks open the stage; that becomes oppressive and then almost holy. The light here is time and these dancers are caught. But when one grabs hold of the waist of another, throws his lower body away from the gravity of ground and takes two running, controlled steps in the air I get a chill in my chest and I think they can do it – these men can keep dancing like this forever. They will stay young and stop time. Everything they stand for, all the elements of their lives, everything they fight for and against will make sense because they will continue running full speed backward and into the space of one another, flying almost.

There is much dancing in this world that is not yet defined. This remains true for H3. It is something entirely new to view this dance. Those who get to see it are lucky because at no time in history has anything like this existed. In fact, it is the more definable breaking moves that become less interesting – though they are stunning, they are belted out without regard to anything but immediate impact. And, while the accumulation of this effort is something to be valued, it unfortunately becomes too much of a good thing.

I would not call H3 a “fusing of hip-hop and contemporary dance” as it is described, in part, in the Walker brochure (and this may well be a description from the company itself) because to name it like this is too simple. The labels cause us to think in categories. It makes us view the dance in parts and influences upon Beltrão. This dance is formed from movement into excitement and beauty. It is youth. It is speed. It is an image of violence in challenge and it is a challenge to violence. It is a pursuit upon the space that separates our bodies. It is looking up to the sky which is a form of surrender. It is effort which remains when the movement stops. It is community. It is the sound we make when we are surprised. It is hip hop. It is contemporary dance. None of this is label. All of this is elemental to our lives.

Youth. Challenge. Pursue. Remain.
These are the elements of our lives honored by this dance and I am honored to have viewed it.