What can we expect from shows at the Granada Theatre that attract a younger crowd? This is something that Break! certainly did. Break! tested the theater’s acoustics not with live instrumental or vocal music, but with the pre-recorded, bass-heavy strains of Daft Punk and Justin Timberlake. And why not? But Break! also assumed such gullibility on the part of the audience that it seemed as though it was testing to see if we’ll take performing monkeys for artists. And that’s where they’re wrong.
If you’ve ever witnessed a breakdance battle in an underground club, or even watched b-boys and b-girls throw down a mat on the street and stick a tape in a boom box, you’ll know something of the charge of hip-hop culture: the excitement of competition, the up-yours attitude, the sharp edge of alertness that accompanies any improvised art form. All of it was missing in Break!
The problem with this show wasn’t a lack of talent on the part of the performers but the painfully inauthentic setting in which their performances were delivered. Break! was like a hip-hop zoo, where street artists were reduced to exotic attractions, specimens of a foreign culture known as hip-hop. “Ladies and gentlemen!” boomed the voice of an unseen presenter. “Welcome to hip-hop culture, where deejays, graffiti art, and philosophies are expressed every day in the urban neighborhoods of America!” On came the b-boys top-rocking and head-spinning in matching tracksuits, the token Asian b-girl popping and locking in a Japanese jacket, the Rastafarian in red, yellow, and green with his dreadlocks flying.
The single saving grace of the evening came in the form of Kenny “The Human Orchestra” Muhammad, whose unbelievable beatboxing-purely vocal percussion-was delivered straight, on a bare stage, with only a mike and a spotlight. Without exception, the other performers-dancers, deejays, and drummers alike-were forced into poor choreography and tacky costumes that bottled up the raw energy of street art and live improvisation into a near-unrecognizable form. As if aware the audience would need help interpreting what they’d just seen, a final message was projected at the back of the stage: “THIS IS HIP-HOP!” You could have fooled me.