The TeenTix Press Corps partnered with Edmonds Center for the Arts to host a Dance Journalism workshop around the performance of the Hiplet Ballerinas, February 20, 2020. Taught by multimedia journalist and dance artist, Imana Gunawan, the workshop covered the basics of dance criticism and how to approach writing a dance review. In our initial lesson we learned some context for the performance by discussing the roots of both hip hop and ballet as art forms. Before the performance, teens also attended the pre-show talk curated by Dani Tirrell (movement artist centering dance around the African Diaspora) featuring Erricka Turner (Ballet and Graham Techniques) and Fides Anna Banana Freeze Mabanta (B-Girl and Hip-Hop), along with Hiplet company representatives. The discussion further framed the performance by asking questions like: How do race and class play into both of these dance techniques? Does Hip-Hop need Ballet to make it more legitimate to white audiences; and does Ballet need Hip-Hop to make it feel relevant to Black and Brown audiences?
After attending the show, participants met for a final meeting to discuss and reflect on the performance. Teens worked on their writing, did some peer editing, and also reflected on how to confront bias while reviewing dance. Below are the reflections on the Hiplet performance written by some of the workshop participants.
Written by Madeleine - Freshman at University of Washington
The performance of the Hiplet Ballerinas at the Edmonds Center for the Arts involved ten dancers intermixing different styles of dance, and combining them with classical ballet. That night, the dancers performed moves like the moonwalk, running man, and even dropped it low, all while on pointe.
The show begins with a single sparkling figure on the stage. The dance becomes a trio, and they morph from dancing ballet into grooving to a song that tells us, “It’s concentration, coordination, determination. It’s Hiplet.”
The theme around some dances in the show is that they begin dancing strict ballet and become freer as the song goes on, having fun and dancing the ballet hip-hop love-child known as “Hiplet”.
The Hiplet performance was inseparably linked to African American History, because of the development of hip-hop in African American culture. This is made clear through the show’s nods to both Ancient Egyptian culture, and to the modern-day culture of Chicago. These aspects demonstrate how Hiplet is based in African American culture, and that it works to empower African Americans today, while telling us that classical ballet isn’t just for white people to perform or appreciate.
In dance, there has been a stigma against mixing dance styles for a long time. It was seen as taboo, and you couldn’t perform a set intermixing genres. This show looks to challenge that stigma by mixing ballet with hip-hop. By the show’s own definition, “it’s just about the greatest discipline of all time.”
Written by Jesse - 8th grader
Instead of cluttering up the stage with unnecessary props or overdoing the lighting, incredible dancing takes center stage in the performance by the Hiplet Ballerinas. The dancers gracefully and skillfully leap, pirouette, and glide across the stage in well-made, beautiful costumes. The music, which ranges from classical to hip-hop, is mostly somewhere in between. For example, violin, but played to a hip-hop beat.
Combining styles of dance and music as different as ballet and hip-hop is no easy task, but the Hiplet ballerinas pull it off quite well. Prancing, sliding, and spinning to vaguely classical music. when the beat drops, so do the dancers, transitioning into a more modern style. All of the dancers move into a triangular formation to end the "act." The solo performances are also impressive, showcasing the soloist's classical training.
The music is done very well, perfectly accompanying the dancer's movements on stage. The rhythm is on-point (no pun intended) and simple enough so that the entire audience was clapping to it at times.
There is also a break from the dancing in the form of short movies detailing the main ideas behind the creation of Hiplet. The entire performance was well put together, with the ability to draw the viewer into the performance as if they were the ones dancing, giving the dancing a more realistic feel than some other dance performances.
Another thing that supports the realism and relatability of the show is the story. I, for one could not really see a clear story, but the origin of the music does shed light on the themes. The light design, as I stated at the start of the review, conveys a message without the need for multi-colored strobe lights or rapidly moving spotlights.
With only three spotlights and a strip of LED's that change color based on the theme, the viewers get some background from the color. The music and dance do the rest.
There were a few breaks in this immersion, such as the music being played a bit too loud through the speakers, making some parts sound like static. Also the fact that the screen that projects images behind the dancers to provide further ideas about the theme is misaligned, sometimes drawing the viewers attention away from the dancing. Otherwise, the show was amazing, an experience that you don't see all the time. I'd definitely recommend it.
The Hiplet Ballerinas performance ran at Edmonds Center for the Arts on February 20, 2020. For event information see here.