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Actors’ Playhouse has been a musical powerhouse for much of its history. Launching its 30th anniversary season at the Miracle Theatre in Coral Gables, the company is revisiting some of that history with a new production of a made-for-South Florida favorite: Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s “Evita.” As it did in 2000 when recent Tony Award winner Rachel Bay Jones starred as Eva Duart..

Playwright Suzan-Lori Parks won the Pulitzer Prize for “Topdog/Underdog” in 2002. But as Zoetic Stage’s superb new production of the play at Miami’s Arsht Center demonstrates, her funny, shocking tale of two brothers struggling to survive is as potent today as it was 15 years ago. Maybe more so, given the country’s deepening divide. Parks’ harrowing drama examines the complex relation..

We are born. We live, have families, grow old. We die, leaving those who loved us to mourn. Playwright Thornton Wilder brilliantly captured the eternal verities of our journey through life in “Our Town,” his 1938 Pulitzer Prize-winning play about life, love and death in a small New Hampshire town at the turn of the 20th century. If you’re at all drawn to theater, you’ve probably ..

“Miami Motel Stories: Little Havana” written by Juan C. Sanchez, directed by Tamilla Woodard, and produced by Juggerknot Theatre Company, is a site-specific, immersive theater experience that interweaves narrative, performance, history and architecture. Nine short plays take place in nine hotel rooms on the second floor of the Tower Hotel, right off Calle Ocho on Seventh Street. Sanchez, ..

Artistic director and founder of Juggerknot Theatre Company, Tanya Bravo, had her first brush with immersive theater in New York City when she met director Tamilla Woodard. Working on the play “Broken City,” Bravo and other actors led audience members on a theatrical journey through the streets of the Lower East Side. “I was so blown away by the concept and the lines that were crossed between ..

We humans do love our rituals. When an extended family gathers for the holidays, familiar traditions promise a comforting respite from an increasingly complex, chaotic world. Still, realistically, troubles and fears refuse to be left behind. They surface like unwelcome guests. So do resentments and stinging remarks born of deep knowledge. With Thanksgiving on the horizon, you wonder: ..

After a tryout run in Chicago, 34 previews and 746 performances on Broadway, and a tour launch in Buffalo, “On Your Feet!” has finally opened in the place where Cuban-born music superstars Gloria and Emilio Estefan made their dreams come true: Miami. At Friday’s red carpet opening at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, with the Estefans and their extended family in atte..

Whether the comedy is high or low, performer-writer Steve Martin has been making moviegoers, “Saturday Night Live” fans and theater lovers laugh for more than half a century – hard to believe it’s been that long, but he started early. Martin’s way with both cerebral jokes and physical comedy is abundantly on display in “The Underpants,” his 2002 adaptation of Carl Sternheim’s once-ban..

Robert Schenkkan’s “Building the Wall” begins as a wary conversation between two strangers: Rick, a white male convict awaiting a likely death sentence, and Gloria, a black female historian and college professor. For 90 minutes, the two talk. She probes; he explains and justifies and slowly paints a picture of a man-made Seventh Circle of Hell. By the time the play ends, the audience ..

Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ award-winning play “An Octoroon” layers an antebellum melodrama with 21st-century parlance and perspective. The result is an innovative play-within-a-play that skillfully reminds us of slavery’s horrible past and its ever-present legacy. Area Stage Company’s production, thoughtfully directed by John Rodaz, brings together a talented cast to ensure this melodra..

Breakin’ Convention Showcases Hip Hop Theater Art, and Breaking Commercialized Connections


Photo: Soweto Skeleton; photo: Paul Hampartsoumian
Written by: Sean Erwin
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When Cardi B, with her trademark no-filter attitude, raps in her recent hit “Bodak Yellow” – Now I don’t got to dance/I make money move – she has something to sing about, with her smash hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. Although Jonzi D, organizer of Breakin’ Convention – a festival of hip hop art forms descending on the Arsht Center Friday and Saturday – sees a landmark in Cardi B’s success, he also hears in the song the hip-hop arts again being hijacked by the American music industry.

In the journey from the Sugarhill Gang’s 1980 hit “Rapper’s Delight” to Cardi B’s “Bodak Yellow,” Jonzi worries something has been lost in the commercial success of American hip hop. For Jonzi that something is what he calls truth. Speaking with him in London by phone, Jonzi confessed: “Hip hop has been reshaped, and it is celebrating values that are ultimately capitalist and defamatory to black people.”

Breakin’ Convention aims to change that. Since 2004 Jonzi D has packed audiences at London’s Sadler’s Wells Theatre by showcasing scissor-legged gymnastics, raw MC-ing and a magic canvass made from urban cement by Europe’s top graffiti artists.

The youngest of six children, Jonzi D’s attraction to hip hop grew naturally from his Caribbean roots. “Hip hop felt like a mixture of reggae and soul. My older brother was the first one to play ‘Rapper’s Delight’ to me. It reminded me of reggae music because of the rapid chatting over the music that happens in rap as well.” Through that music, Jonzi D “saw a load of people who looked like me – non-white people – doing the most audacious things on the street.”

He thinks American hip-hop artists have lost track of their origins – something their European counterparts still champion. “The culture of hip hop is celebrated a lot more outside America than in America. Outside America those basic pillars of the culture -- break dancing as an art form, DJ-ing as an art form, graffiti as art form – are developing at a rapid rate. In Europe we are free of the grip the American music industry has on hip hop. In Europe we are free to celebrate hip hop as an art form more.”

Jonzi D is quick to point out that it was thedance aspect of hip hop that compelled him to develop his whole idea of hip-hop theater: “Hip-hop theater is a vision I had in the late 1980s,” continued Jonzi.“I trained in the London Contemporary Dance School. I discovered in that school a fantastic attitude where people were looking for new movement and new ideas. In one theory class I asked, ‘why are we not studying hip hop?’”

The answer Jonzi got focused on preparing students for the market place, and in the eyes of his teachers there just was no market for hip-hop dance. “Breakin’ Convention is about hip-hop culture, where the dance is the main focus, and it always has been as far as I’m concerned.”

For that reason, the Miami version of Breakin’ Convention highlights, for instance, South Africa’s Soweto Skeleton Movers and their hip-hop adaptation of Pantsula, an energetic, jive-like step based on a 1950s Soweto dance style called isparapara.Isparapara grew out of movements commuters made as they jumped on and off buses.

Isparapara dancers later mixed in tap to shape the bouncy, energized choreographies that have made the Soweto Skeleton Movers famous. Think Plastic Man’s all-morphic stretchability mixed with a Fred Astaire smooth style and just a dab of Michael Jackson’s genius for making a photo moment out of the snap of the hips or cock of a shoulder – and you have some idea of what to expect.

Since its inception in 2004, an important part of Breakin’ Convention has been sharing the stage with both local legends and the home-town artists ready for a breakout.

One of Miami’s crews, the Flipside Kings, will be on that stage. Founded in Miami in 1994 as a b-boy crew, the Flipside Kingsis now one of Miami’s most successful collectives of graffiti and performance artists.

Asked what performing at Breakin’ Convention meant to his crew, founding member Rudi Goblen explained that they’re “excited to be part of this as there aren't too many events that shine a light on the hip-hop culture and its many faces in Miami. To have the Arsht and Breakin’ Conventioncome together to make something like this happen, for us, is a beautiful thing.”

Breakin’ Convention: An International Festival of Hip-Hop Theatre, Adrienne Arsht Center’s Knight Concert Hall, 1300 Biscayne Blvd.; Friday and Saturday, 7:30 p.m., and a free block party on Sunday from 11 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. at the Arsht Center Campus. Info: Cost: $25-$60; 305-949-6722; www.arshtcenter.org/Tickets/Calendar/2017-2018-Season/Breakin-Convention/Breakin-Convention/

 


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About The writer

Sean Erwin is a writer and assistant professor of Philosophy at Barry University, with a focus on aesthetics and contemporary french philosophy.
Sean Erwin is an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Barry University and received his Masters and Doctorate in Philosophy from Vanderbilt. He has presented and published on topics in political philosophy, Italian and French philosophy, and technology and performance studies. He currently serves as the senior editor of the Humanities and Technology Review.

Erwin is also a performance critic for Artburst, with performance previews and reviews appearing regularly there and in other South Florida publications. Artburst gives him the platform to critique the aesthetic principles he writes on as a professional philosopher through analysis of the concrete movements embodied by performers.

He is also an accomplished dancer and teacher in the Argentine Tango community. In 2000 he founded and served as editor of the Chicago webzine, Tango Noticias, a specialty dance periodical dedicated to examining Argentine Tango as a set of social practices rooted to the Southern cone’s history, politics, and culture.

Since his move to South Florida, he has both taught philosophy and served as a principal tango instructor for the Miami-based, Shimmy Club, a non-profit program that teaches Argentine Tango to vision-impaired teens. Through his involvement with the program, Erwin has been featured in articles and several news outlets including Univision, Telemundo, NBC News, KPFK Los Angeles, and the Miami Herald. For more information, see erwinsean.com.

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About the Writer

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