Ballerina Who Loves B-boy
nytheatre.com review by Nancy Kim
October 22, 2008
Philosophically, one can ruminate for some time about the effects of globalization and commercialization in the Korean breakdance-ical import playing at 37 Arts. How much do we want to investigate the reinterpretation and reappropriation of a dance form born in the streets of New York City by inner city youths that has evolved today into a global phenomenon that expands the artistic and creative expression of the genre, but also moves away from its roots and tries to fit into a mainstream model and seek mainstream acceptance?
It is much more enjoyable, though, to give up on the heavy thinking and simply take pleasure in the tricks, power moves, and super-acrobatic/super-athletic breakdancing by the international champs Extreme Crew in this 90-minute showcase.
In the b-boy arena (for the not up-to-date readers, b-boys/b-girls are those whose way of life is devoted to hip-hop culture, but more specifically, breakdancing), South Koreans have, in a short time, made quite a reputation for themselves with their stellar technical skill while pushing creative boundaries with loose storylines or thematic elements. It is the latter that has evolved into shows like Ballerina Who Loves B-boy, which has had runs in Korea and China, as well as at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Ballerina is a hybrid that employs a traditional narrative with characters and plot, but thrillingly, it's more about the dancing.
In the show, a snobby young woman (Eun Hae Yoo) and her friends prefer the refined ballet studio and Tchaikovsky to the gang of hip-hoppers breakdancing in the streets (for this show, the scenic design suggests that this is taking place near Washington Square Park in New York). Her disdain is quite evident as she brazenly tries to confront them. The hip-hoppers and b-boys, though, are just as prejudiced and sneer back at the dainty ballerina. There is a dance-off between the b-boys and the ballerinas as they show off their different styles, but there is no changing of minds at the end of it.
However, one b-boy catches the eye of the main ballerina (perhaps because Youngkwang Joung is pretty spectacular as he spins and spins on his head and performs other dizzying and athletic feats). After much internal conflict and one Cirque de Soleil-inspired nightmare, the ballerina aims to capture the attention of the b-boy.
The plot doesn't get much more complicated than that. The story mostly moves along with miming from the performers (and apart from the ballerina and her b-boy, there aren't really any other strongly defined characters among the 20+ performers). But there are plenty of dancing sequences to entertain. The performers borrow from modern dance, mask work, and Korean pop to supplement the main attraction, which is the spinning, jumping, pop-and-locking, tricking, gravity-defying and super-human strength summoning from the crew of seven main b-boys and the other performers.
It is a wondrous reminder of the limitless creativity in how humans use and express ourselves with our bodies. That is definitely something to philosophize about.