It was the Versa-Style Dance Company that informed much of my thinking about Hip-Hop and when they premiered Box of Hope back in 2016 at The Ford amphitheater, it was clear that this company was on the rise. Established in 2009, Versa-Style Dance Company made its debut at The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts (The Wallis) on August 19, 2021, and audiences who were fortunate enough to see the work at The Ford had the opportunity to see how the company and the stunning evening-long work Box of Hope has matured. Although The Wallis’ recently constructed outdoor venue appeared too small to support this company’s style and energy, the dancers never appeared to be holding back.
Primarily choreographed by Co-Founders and Co-Artistic Directors Jackie “Miss Funk” Lopez and Leigh “Breeze Lee” Foaad with several sections in collaboration with the dancers, Box of Hope takes one through a Myriad of emotions as the work investigates the lives of an inner-city Los Angeles community, family dynamics, and the hopes, fears and dreams of those involved. The story of Box of Hope is told through incredible dancing, pop music that one cannot sit still to, and pantomime.
Lopez and Foaad are masters at their craft and have learned how to direct the audiences’ eye to see what they deem important at any given moment, as when two trios are performing separate movement phrases onstage simultaneously with a duet and one manages to see a son acknowledge is father’s presence with simple the nod of his head. Or, a mother, visually expressing the love for her family by gently patting her heart as bodies fly around her in a variety of magnificent hip hop styles, sometimes in unison and other times not.
The company sets up the theme of individual hopes, fears and dreams as well as introducing each performer’s style and personality in the opening section titled Curious, performed to music by Whomi – Tipper. Each performer carrying a box, Lopez and Foaad creates amazing unison phrases that resemble shapes in a kaleidoscope or formations created by June Taylor Dancers during the 1950’s and 1960’s, while each individual dancer opens a box and performs a solo in reaction to what they find inside. The energy is high and the company gives a hint at what they are capable of accomplishing.
Powers That Be performed to music by Jorge Quintero introduces the characters within the work. Lopez is the matriarch, Foaad the wayward husband, Harry “Full Out” Weston and Ernest “Precise” Galarza the older and younger brothers. In They Don’t Hear Us performed to Marvin Gaye the use of two trios and a duet onstage at the same time, relates three stories of conflict in the inner city and the oppression forced upon people of color by the police and social divisions. Conflict takes a closer look inside the family and how the love/hate relationship between parents effects the lives of their children.
Lopez shines in Alone as the matriarch who still loves her husband but who is determined to protect her family and herself from further pain and disappointment. The music of The Temptations singing Papa Was a Rolling Stone in Brother helps expose the reasons the two sons and mother are hesitant to accept the father’s amends. Foaad and the dancers excel here in dramatizing the conflict while not missing a beat executing their movement.
Full of Fire showcases the male talents of Versa-Style. It is about rebellion, protest, and survival. Twice following high-energy dancing, they freeze in a defiance, strength and pride with fists raised in the iconic POC power salute. This is followed by the women of Versa-Style revealing a more lyrical style in Wings of Flight.
The section titled Box of Hope is a solo for Foaad and I was reminded of how moved I was by his performance when this work premiered in 2016. The solo is a culmination of all the feelings of the entire work and by everyone represented in it. Foaad repeatedly dips his hands into a single, small red box and each time reexperiences the dreams and hopes of a young man, followed by the realities of life that followed. Foaad finishes his amazing solo providing the audience with inspired hope for a better future. He is both an extremely talented choreographer and one of a kind performer. This solo stands on its own as a great work of art.
Following Foaad’s solo, Moving Forward brings a reconciliation between husband and wife with a cartoon-style and humorous duet performed by Lopez and Foaad to Louis Armstrong’s rendition of La Vie En Rose by Edith Piaf. In the City, bring reconciliation between father and sons, husband and wife, and the exuberance of optimism, courage and potential amongst a culture of people.
This final section followed by an encore section for bows, leaves the audience wanting more from this Los Angeles treasure Versa-Style Dance Company.
The amazingly talented cast of dancers include: Brandon “BeastBoi” Juezan, Harry “Full Out” Weston, Alli Gray, Ernesto “Precise” Galarza, Cynthia “C-Soul” Hernandez, Anthony “Berry Groove” Berry, Jessi “Tru Flow” Pontillas, Gbari “GQ” Gilliam, Jackie “Miss Funk” Lopez, and Leigh “Breeze Lee” Foaad.
The Stage Manager for this production of Box of Hope was Aubrey “Siga” Mamaid and the Assistant Stage Manager Ceanne Augustin.
The Wallis Production Team included: Technical Director Matt Waldron, Production Supervisor Samantha Else, Audio Visual Supervisor Gary Markowitz, Lighting Supervisor Noah Ulin, Lighting Coordinator Lauren Wemischner, and Assistant Technical Director Claudia Peterson.
To visit the Versa-Style Dance Company website, click HERE.
To learn more about The Wallis, click HERE.
Written by Jeff Slayton for LA Dance Chronicle.
Featured image: Versa-Style Dance Company at The Wallis – Box of Hope – Photo by Lawrence K. Ho