Review: Robert Hylton Urban Classicism in Verse & Verses at Purcell Room, South Bank Centre

Performance: 12 May
Reviewed by Clare Thurman - Monday 15 May 2006

Hip hop influenced contemporary dance was a concept that intrigued me, having previously experienced both hip hop and contemporary dance as separate dance forms. The result was a rather disjointed mishmash of clean lines and high extensions with body popping and headstands, which rarely achieved a fluid fusion between styles.

Short snippets of video, music and scratching filled the first twenty minutes interspersed with brief solo performances which were highly skilled but not long enough to really develop which left me thinking ‘when will the actual work start?’.

Even by the halfway point I was unconvinced. Three male and two female performers made up the main cast, and dressed in colourful culottes and long sleeved t-shirts they looked quite uncomfortable trying to embody a hip hop style. Many of them were clearly classically trained and there was something odd about their awkward attempts at popping which took some getting used to. I tried to keep an open mind considering my lack of knowledge of hip hop in its rawest form.

As the work progressed either I got used to the style, the performers relaxed into it or both as I began to really enjoy what I was seeing. The highlight was a section with two male/female duets. The way in which break dance and contemporary dance moves were incorporated into sequences of contact work was phenomenal in places. It added a certain ‘icing on the cake’ when adventurous, awesome moves were pushed to the limit with the help of a partner. Headstands, one handed handstands, spins and flips merged to create a collage of physical trickery with smooth transitions. One by one the performers showed off their best stunts in a square of light, receiving raucous applause from the audience.

The work fell short again for me when the dancers began to literally compare the virtuosic moves one might see in classical ballet with those from the hip hop genre. A girl pirouetting next to a guy spinning on the floor and a bizarre port de bras with broken wrists was a little over the top for me.

Despite my reservations in some parts, the work was held together by the physical energy on stage and the clear bond between the performers. I admire Hylton’s attempt at breaking boundaries and experimenting with new dance styles by combining his experiences. It took a bit of getting used to but I would like to see Urban Classicism again, as I think the fusion can only get smoother and more natural over time.

What’s On