At the risk of repeating myself, Versa-Style Dance Company is a national treasure and fortunately for us, the company is based right here in Los Angeles. Founded in 2005 by Co-Artistic Directors Jackie “Miss Funk” Lopez and Leigh “Breeze-Lee” Foaad, this group has educated audiences on the importance of Hip Hop as an art form and raised the bar for other Hip Hop dance artists around the globe. Box of Hope, the company’s most familiar work, brought The Ford Amphitheater to its feet; Furious Beauty that wowed those who saw it at The Wallis; and Feel Our Rhythm that Joel Smith, Dancing In Los Angeles: Political Moves wrote “It’s like a live music video, pulsing and driving, quick cutting and dissolving, right before our eyes. It is, in a matter of words, magical.” Indeed, Versa-Style Dance Company just keeps getting better.
Just this month on Donna Sternberg’s latest Awe and Wonder series, Foaad presented a profound dance video titled What Happens Then speaking to the program’s central theme of Climate Change. Now, featured on Versa-Style Dance Company’s 16th Anniversary virtual celebration “Community Expressions Showcase”, Foaad and Lopez have created an astonishing, provocative and at times, disturbing dance video titled EXTINCTION that, sadly, is no longer available on YouTube, but fortunately for everyone, this film was an excerpt from a longer work to soon be performed.
Foaad and Lopez’s choreographic skills have involved to match those of choreographers in what is considered the more mainstream dance genres. Partially due to great artists such as these two, Hip-Hop has become mainstream. It has become part of the core dance technique curriculum in major dance departments around the country.
Extinction opens with a powerful poem written and recited by international touring spoken word poet and hip hop artist, educator, and speaker Kane Smego, whose piecing blue eyes match the cutting truth emitting from the verses of his spoken word poem.
Lopez is discovered center stage, face pointed skyward and her own hands around her throat in a strangle hold. The rest of the cast enter individually, each expressing anger, fear, resistance and frustration via rapid fire popping, locking, breaking and other Hip Hop styles until they gently bleed into a unison movement phrase. The subject of Extinction is not always easy to observe, but it is one of importance and so well performed that it is difficult not to want more.
The choreography showcases each individual dancer, moves them through beautifully constructed formations, splits off a soloist working in contrast to a quartet, and challenges each performer’s acting ability in addition to their dancing skills. The filming by Kane Smego, Jaimar Viray, and Ernesto “Precise” Galarza, and the editing by Smego is excellent. The camera shifts from front to side to the diagonal, becoming part of the action and the choreography by doing so. It is not there to simply record, but to create.
Extinction investigates and highlights the trials that not only those artists in the Hip-Hop genres have faced, but the hardships experienced by minority groups throughout time. The film ends with the destruction of individuals, but I am hopeful that as Smego’s spoken word poem indicates – like the mighty dinosaurs, they will refuse to die out, but evolve, grow wings and fly.
Extinction was choreographed by Jackie “Miss Funk” Lopez and Leigh “Breeze-Lee” Foaad in collaboration with the dancers. The incredible cast included Lopez, Foaad, Alli Gray, Harry “Full Out” Weston, Anthony “Berry-Groove” Berry, Cynthia “C-Soul” Hernandez, Brandon “BeastBoi” Juezan, Ernesto “Precise” Galarza, Gbari “GQ” Gilliam, Jessi “Tru Flow” Pontillas, Brianna “Passion” Grey, and Ceanne Klein (Apprentice).
Special shout out to the original Music Mix by DJ Quest whose talents greatly supported and enhanced the choreographers’ vision.
To learn more about Versa-Style Dance Company, please click HERE.
Written by Jeff Slayton for LA Dance Chronicle.
Featured image: Versa-Style Dance Company – Promo shot for “Extinction” – Courtesy of the company