Urban and Jookin Animal Ballets Mark Change in Acceptance, Expectation


Beyond Babel

Approximately 15 years ago, Keone Madrid began dancing and teaching at San Diego’s Culture Shock Dance Center. Without his input, students filmed his combinations and posted them on YouTube. Like Cupid’s arrow, those early video postings touched the heart of Mari, a dancer from Colorado.

Keone and Mari carved their own artistic paths, until their online work led to an invitation from the dance workshop Urban Legends. The two were invited to teach in Temecula. It was meant to be. Keone asked Mari to teach for Future Shock San Diego, the competitive crew he danced in.

Keone and Mari Madrid debut “Beyond Babel” in San Diego. Courtesy image.

They worked together and dated for months, and then they started to collaborate.

When videos of them teaching together appeared online, their popularity surged.  They have starred in and choreographed music videos, billboards, competitions, and the TV shows “So You Think You Can Dance” and “World of Dance.”

Keone and Mari married and live in Carlsbad. They are quick to remind interviewers about their Christian faith. They have a world-wide fan base; their YouTube videos have 1.5 billion views.  Their romantic partnering and lyrical style is changing the acceptance and expectation of hip hop.


Their dance show Beyond Babel premiering in San Diego is an urban ballet, inspired by the classic Romeo & Juliet and current tragedies, such as families torn apart by border walls. It is told through the style of West Coast Urban Dance, with fast footwork and back flips instead of grand jetes and fouettes.

Several dancers in the exceptional company hail from the San Diego area, including dance captain Selene Haro, from Vista, who’s also an instructor at Building Block, a dance studio opened by the Madrids.

A large part of the Beyond Babel experience is finding the custom-built theatre.  If you go, consider a ride-share and leap out at the corner near the funeral home on Imperial Ave.  The Madrids and their nimble company team with Brooklyn-based Hideaway Circus and crochet designer London Kaye. Once a boxing gym, the space is now high-tech and adorned with colorful woven designs.

The show is billed as immersive, but that’s a stretch. Instead, think of riding on a giant zoom lens. Whole rows of seats move forward and backward to change our focus.  Super fans of Keone and Mari will remember their first video, “Smooth Operator,” which used large-framed shooting instead of quick cuts and angles, so viewers could see the whole picture. The zoom ride works the same way.

At its best, Babel’s athletic choreography fuels an emotional narrative in the structure of a classic ballet. There are solos and duets, groups and weaves.  Dancers depict lovers and families trapped and separated by random borders.  Many of the dances are elegant, and others gritty in the realm of West Side Story. Through complex gestures, the ensemble draws us into their struggle.

The danger becomes intensely real when they climb and whirl chain link fence panels on wheels. We can’t help but flinch and gasp each time the fingers and bodies avoid pinching.  Still, there’s a touching moment when one person peeks through the fence embellished with crochet, to conjure thoughts of afghans and grandmothers everywhere, and children wailing inside warehouses in Texas.

While hip hop on stage is known for aggressive and angled syncopation, the West Coast Urban style in Babel is balanced with softer hands and energy that flows out of finger tips.  Dancers in Babel perform impeccable unison sequences that slam the floor and youthful joints, but also slide and spin in graceful forms.

Costumes (Junlyn Delas Alas) are limited.   The good people wear pedestrian blah.  The bad guys–a rotation of prison guard, border patrol, or not sure what—are faceless and don masks made of small mirrors. While that may work for short dance shows, an expanded narrative that runs two hours needs more costume variety and color to build characters and depth.

White-soled shoes squeak throughout, and we freak out when a guy is locked in a cage as the lyrics “Is that freedom?” blast out.  While an expansive program in font 6 lists every cast member, there is no song list.

With the dynamic partnering of Keone and Mari and a knockout cast of dancers, even in its preview Beyond Babel is rewarding. One can imagine more YouTube videos and a bright future on tour.  It’s energy and message of acceptance should go global.

Beyond Babel runs through Nov. 18, 2018, at 2625 Imperial Avenue.   www.beyondbabelshow.com.  For more insight, please read the review by Janice Steinberg. http://www.sandiegostory.com/beyond-babel-a-riveting-hip-hop-romeo-and-juliet/


When Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis last performed for La Jolla Music Society in the Jazz Series in Oct. 2016, who could have predicted that two years later they’d return with tap and jook dancing geniuses?

Jared Grimes dances with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, whose leader, trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, is pictured fourth from left in the top row behind Grimes. (Photo by Lawrence Sumulong)

Wynton Marsalis’ Spaces combines big band jazz and jook dancer Lil Buck and modern tap dancer Jared Grimes, and for the San Diego performance Oct. 3 at the Balboa Theatre, jook dancer Myles Yachts also performed physically charged dances.

Musicians and dancers interacted and throughout ten movements that correspond to a different animal. Marsalis describes it as “animal ballet,” and with every leap, slide and undulation, the dance performance marked a moment of glorious acceptance and expectation.

For “Ch-Ch-Ch-Chicken,” Grimes, Buck and Yachts responded to clarinets by locking sharp elbows and showing off long legs in spins on their toes.

In a smooth voice, Marsalis reported there are 264 species of monkeys, and as we chuckled, Grimes launched onto the stage with scrapes of his feet, a walkover, and falls onto his knees and knuckles. With no fear of falling onto the orchestra, Grimes barrel rolled up and behind them. He was the extra percussionist.

Of course we expected some harrumphs, and Lil’ Buck brought the elephant to life. “Elephants were the first trumpeters,” Marsalis explained, and when the tuba blared, Lil’ Buck created a giant snout with his muscled arm. Step-heel-rolls, shoulder rolls, and whoot–his arm became a trunk. We gasped when he bent his hand at the wrist to undulate his new appendage, as an elephant would to sip water.  Bass player Carlos Henriquez called to him again and again, until the horn section finally squeaked for the dancer to bow.

The program grew visually and sonically with the dance trio scraping and tapping to “Leap Frogs,” and finally challenging each other with on-toe spins, leaps and split jumps.

Energy slowed in “Mr. Penguin Please,” which allowed viewers to take a breath, but certainly not the performers. Grimes and Lil’ Buck dressed in coats and hats to perform simple time steps before riding up on their toes. Dance purists could recognize perfect plies and Charleston, and also marvel at their comic timing and superb musicality.  The percussive dancers and orchestra perform as one.

The second half opened with “Like a Snake” and metaphors galore. As Marsalis spoke of myths and legends, magic and male fertility, Lil’ Buck interpreted the glide and slide and lies. The sound of horns and brushes on drums combined with his undulating shoulders, and it felt hotter than Borrego in summer.  His body became a gorgeous shirtless worm with a magical ability to bend to the floor and rise up in one loop.

Lil’ Buck is a dancer, actor and model from Memphis. His style of dance is “Memphis” jookin, a genre known for a jerky gait, and other street styles from liquid to break.  He is well-known for his interpretive “The Dying Swan” with Yo-Yo Ma, and performing with New York City Ballet, and Cirque du Soleil.

Jared Grimes is a versatile dancer, singer, and actor from Jamaica Queens, known for rhythm-tap and hip hop influences.  He has won the Astaire Award and choreographed for Broadway shows and Cirque du Soleil.

Myles Yachts is a jookin street dancer who lives for fast spins. He makes pictures with loose arms and hands. He describes it as a free -style form that requires instant musicality.

For the limited tour of Spaces, Damian Woetzel, choreographer and retired principal dancer with New York City Ballet, returns as director and choreographic consultant.

Spaces captivates by integrating dance with Marsalis’ compositions and humorous introductions, until it becomes an extraordinary celebration of music and dance as equals.

As the concert reached resolution, the orchestra performed “Nightingale,” a gray piece highlighted by a trumpet that literally gleams. It is the one piece without dancers.

Grimes danced to “King Lion,” and interpreted the story of a beast sleeping 16 to 20 hours a day with stooped walks and licking lips. Within a few minutes, he had the crowd on their feet in ovation.

Through intense body building and dance magic, his shoulders became massive, and his shoes scraped the stage as giant lion claws might do. His brown and white shoes did not jingle.  They scrapped and fluttered until his lion seemed to fly in exaggerated wings, a dance step where feet shuffle under the body in air. His almost violent drumming of feet caused his shoes to undo themselves.  The exquisite and kind orchestra vamped each time he stopped to adjust them.

All three dancers tumbled and skittered to “Bees Bees Bees” as Marsalis set the scene about a queen and the lowly drones. Of course we heard buzzing and drumrolls. Dancers escaped a swarm with more style than any family on vacation.

The pinnacle of the night had to be the improvisational bows and encore with bass, piano and drums and three tapping, jerky dancers who illuminated viewers about the exciting style of hip hop, tap and jook.

For more insight and focus on the virtuoso orchestra, please read the review by music critic Ken Herman. http://www.sandiegostory.com/winton-marsalis-brings-his-musical-menagerie-to-life-with-the-jazz-at-lincoln-center-orchestra-for-the-la-jolla-music-society/





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