Art Catch: Ballerina Who Loves A B-Boy

by |
10/21/2008 9:30 AM |

In her weekly online column Art Catch, The L‘s Patricia Milder tells you which exhibits and shows are worth visually stalking. And which ones are simply not.

A French film crew nearly took me out after Ballerina Who Loves a B-Boy — a title that surely says it all –- lunging to get a microphone in front of my friend Chaney. Because he’s black and it isn’t much of a stretch to guess "dancer" by looking at him, the post-show interviewers were hoping to get some sort of soundbite worthy material about the international, mainstream appropriation of Black American culture. From the way they phrased their questions, it was clear they dearly hopedfor anger or indignation. But without looking up from the text message he was sending, Chaney explained quite unemotionally that the Korean dancers in the show displayed a high level of technical excellence in break dancing, but they lacked an understanding of all other aspects of the New York underground scene they re-imagined here.

He’s right: there is absolutely nothing about this show that is
historically or culturally accurate in any way. This is pure off
Broadway theatre: a show imported from Seoul, Korea, about a New York
ballerina who falls in love with one of the B-Boys dancing on the
street outside her studio. According to the set, this takes place on
Fifth Ave by Washington Square Park in a world where B-Boys below 14th
Street wear L.A. Lakers and Chicago Bulls Jerseys.

Rather than a true attempt at New York, we’re the show projects us into Somewhere Urban, USA,
and it’s worth a quick mind sketch to remember how we got here: Black
and Katino youth street culture from the 80s is exported to Korea on
MTV, where dance moves are learned and perfected by a new generation in
Seoul. With "attitude" appropriated and fashion attempted, it’s then
all wrapped up neat and tidy and sent back to a New York stage, nicely
sanitized for the whole family to enjoy. Gotta love that globalization.

To be honest, going into this performance I knew it was going to be, at
best, a good show the way You Got Served is a good movie: bad acting,
basic plot, corny humor, and whatever other tactics it takes to get
from hip-hop dance number to dance number, with a dance-off or two
thrown in if you’re lucky. The show was built as an exhibition for the
Korean national champions of B-Boying: the Extreme Crew, who should
be fired as the namers of anything, ever. Granted, Extreme Crew
probably sounds cool and exotic in Korea, where there isn’t much
English spoken (though I refuse to excuse the show’s title), and they
are pretty extreme: 20 second one handed handstands, kicks, tricks,
spins, headstands, this crazy one handed wrist stand where the dancer
hopped on his wrist from front to back, back bends and stacked balances
with multiple dancers.

What I didn’t expect beforehand was how utterly pathetic every single
female dancer was going to be. They might as well have been wearing
baby-Ts that read "filler." Creator/director Choi Hee-ill couldn’t have
made worse choices for B-girls if he went to the beginning hip-hop
dance class at Broadway Dance Center and chose at random. The
ballet numbers were a non-issue. Clearly the ballerinas had been
trained, or had at least been taking classes for a few years, but there
was nothing really happening beyond the basics. In fact, even when the
Extreme Crew attempted moves outside of break dancing and tricks, for
example a mediocre pop-locking number or an interpretive dream
sequence, it didn’t work.

Even though Ballerina Who Loves a B-Boy is pretty bad, occasionally to
the point where it becomes embarrassing to watch, there is something
about lightly scripted Korean hip-hop dance theatre that works
instantly as a mood elevator. I’ve never felt myself so quickly and
totally induced into a happy, hypnotized state, as during the opening
number of this show when the exceptionally talented acrobatic dancers
came out and executed the impossible. My advice, however, is to skip
the trek to Hell’s Kitchen and check out some clips on YouTube instead.
A dedicated French fan (perhaps our interviewer?) posted a pretty
comprehensive montage
Just make sure you watch it on mute.

Ballerina Who Loves A B-Boy is now playing at 37 Arts

Closes December 21