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Catching Up with Kujo — Jacob "Kujo" Lyons Refines His Fusion of Ballet and Breakdance for Celebrate Dance 2008

by Rachel Levin
March 10, 2008
The Alex Theatre
216 North Brand Boulevard

Glendale, CA 91203
818-243-7700

Featured Dance Company:

Celebrate Dance
Celebrate Dance (office)

Los Angeles, CA
www.celebratedance.org

A legend in the breakdance world for his envelope-pushing aerials and gymnastic feats, Jacob "Kujo" Lyons has taken the form to new heights with his company Lux Aeterna, founded in 2006, which combines breaking with ballet in exquisite, genre-bending pieces. On a recent Sunday, I caught up with Kujo as he and the company were rehearsing for the premiere of their third piece at the Celebrate Dance 2008 festival, coming up March 15 at the Alex Theatre in Glendale. Set to a spiritual song titled "Credo" by Arvo Pärt, the new piece is called "Metanoia," which means "change of mind" or "transformation" in Greek.

Rachel: What do you want the audience to take away from this new piece?
Kujo: For me it's the continuation of the development of my choreographic style. In those first two pieces that we did, which were very similar, there was zero partnering. None. Barely touched each other, you know, once or twice. And that was because for me it was such a big can of worms and we were pressed for time. There was a bit of fear, a bit of apprehension over getting into that because you never know how much time it's going to take to do that. [In this new piece] I'm trying to take these two things that I'm doing—radical partnering with the hybrid breaking and ballet stuff—and put them together.

R: Given your choice of spiritual music for the piece, what role does spirituality play in your choreography?
K: There's a very spiritual component to all of our work because we're called Lux Aeterna, not just because it sounds cool but because it makes us think of beauty, of sublimity, and things like that. Those are very important things to me artistically. I did a lot of searching when I was trying to figure out if I wanted to keep dancing or not. I was doing well in the dance world but other things were becoming important to me too: the world at large, what life really means, why we are here… I came to sort of a realization that a very large part of why we're here is to create beauty, is to replicate in a mundane form what life might be like where we come from or where we're going, if you have any sort of cosmic belief that there's something beyond this world. So I decided to try to figure out how I could create beauty with my own movement vocabulary.

R: Why did you decide to meld breakdancing with ballet? How do the two share a simpatico?
K: I found a lot of overlap in the techniques of ballet and breaking and connected them in ways that were very momentum driven and very circular and fluid. Breaking was created from a little bit of James Brown (they call him the first b-boy), the Nicholas Brothers (tap dance), Bruce Lee and all these kung fu films, Russian folk dance, Native American folk dance and gymnastics. And all these things have nothing to do with each other, you know? But that sort of eclectism with a certain environment in the Bronx in the 70s allowed breaking to be created. [With ballet] I thought probably similar things happened. Because ballet was once folk dance and then it was cultivated and cultivated and cultivated by kings and it became classical. I thought if I started with something like that, with something eclectic and mundane, and then cultivated it to a certain extent, that it might approach that classical element of the sublime and be really beautiful. So that's what I've been trying to do all along.

R: Why did you choose the name "Metanoia," or transformation, for the piece?
K: Life isn't all about feeling good and doing what feels good just for the sake of feeling good. It's about beauty, but you can't create beauty until you know its opposite very well, until you know intense pain and suffering and frustration and lack and envy and want and all of these things. I'm trying to figure out now how I can convey those by establishing something surreal in the piece that shows this is where we come from and then have it devolve into something that is insane and painful and tortuous. I have a very long solo that I want to resemble Japanese butoh dance where it's just me going through all of this personal torture that's very much internalized and then explode out of that and have an encounter with a young lady that sort of brings me back to balance. And then once I've been through that I am then able to create beauty again and that's where the piece will sort of end.

R: How did you develop your "crazy Kujo" breakdance style?
K: My whole point in breaking was to continue to do things that people had never done before. When I first started I wanted to be "the best." But then I never got those kinds of comments from people, like "Hey, you were the best in that competition or this club." It was like, "You're doing something I've never seen anybody else do." I thought maybe I should run with that. I started cultivating physical upper body strength, which I had a lot of, and started doing what I call plunges which are like horizontal handstands. I had never seen anybody do that in breaking. The next step was aerial movements because there had been a lot of stuff where you spin on the ground, not very much where you spin in the air. I started to help pioneer a lot of things in the breakdance world that had not been done or had been attempted but never advanced. I personally advanced certain aerial things to a level where once the world saw it, it changed the way that they danced.

R: How does Lux Aeterna continue that pioneering spirit?
K: It's pioneering because we break. We're all a bunch of b-boys and b-girls that all went and studied ballet and modern and got good enough at both to put them all together.

For more information about Celebrate Dance 2008, please visit www.celebratedance.org

For more information about Lux Aeterna, please visit
www.luxaeternadance.com
Jacob 'Kujo' Lyons and Sarah Moser of Lux Aeterna rehearse 'Metanoia'

Jacob "Kujo" Lyons and Sarah Moser of Lux Aeterna rehearse "Metanoia"

Photo © & courtesy of Rachel Levin

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