On February 13 a group of audience members gathered in the McGuire Theater’s balcony bar for a Speakeasy – an informal post-performance conversation – about Bruno Beltrão’s H3.
Beltrão’s work blends breaking techniques with the powerful, yet at times playful, partnering of capoeira. While seeped in these traditions, Grupo de Rua dismantles them, subverting audience expectations and forging into new contemporary dance territory. For Beltrão,“[h]ip-hop now needs to be placed in a situation of crisis. By dissecting and jettisoning its vocabulary, new aesthetics can be discovered” (qtd in performance program for H3). As one audience member poignantly noted, these technical forms help mold the body, but the dancer is ultimately left to create something personal and unique with each performance. In this respect, training gives one the freedom to explore movements impossible without it, yet on the other hand, training can become a crutch or a restraint as it can limit one’s vision and imagination regarding what is possible within any given form of dance.
The influence of tradition and technique on the dancer led to the question of what constitutes “training.” The balletic body associated with elite conservatory programs was compared with a breaker’s body, trained through battles, personal practice, and work in tight-knit groups such as Grupo de Rua. Both bodies have skill, precision, timing, and strength that require years of dedication to master. Taking these disparate means of disciplining the body into consideration along with the many dance choreographers since the 1970s who have embraced pedestrian movements or integrated “untrained” performers into their works, this question of what “training” is or what role it plays in dance generally is in many ways open to interpretation.
H3 began with a prolonged, quite stillness and through angular, yet fluid solos and quirky duets grew into a swirling mass of organized momentum. This final velocity was read initially by some as violent, by others as expressing the urgency of cultural forms born in harsh circumstances. While Beltrão’s piece built to incorporate power moves and freezes commonly associated with breaking, the path to reach this point involved denying the audience a number of expectations. The lighting, jarringly turned on in the middle of the evening, was ultimately panned over the audience, causing momentous power moves to be viewed as silhouettes through squinting eyes. The curtains and wings of the stage were stripped away, leaving dancers exposed as they prepared to begin their movement sequences. The space itself was transformed as the scuffs of the dancers’ shoes seemed to create a graffiti pattern on the pristine black floor. Gone were the driving beat and one-on-one battle commonly associated with breaking, replaced by faint street noises and intimate duets that could be said to queer the stereotype of masculinity seen in popularized variations of hip hop culture. More directly, Beltrão presented this rejection of limitations by establishing one – a thin, glowing demarcation around the main performance area that the dancers kicked, shifted, and ultimately pulled away entirely.
Thank you to the audience members who gathered Saturday and contributed their thoughtful insights. The above paragraphs highlight portions of our discussion. Whether or not you were able to join us, please feel free to add your own comments and questions to continue and expand the discussion in this online forum. Did you find elements of Beltrão’s work unexpected? How did you respond to his use of the space, lighting, or soundscape?