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Carnival: The Choreographer's Ball

by Rachel Levin
January 30, 2004
Key Club LA
9039 Sunset Blvd.
West Hollywood, CA 90069
310-786-1712

Carnival: The Choreographer's Ball

Key Club
9039 Sunset Blvd.
West Hollywood, CA
310-786-1712

Wednesday nights, once per month
Check www.dmkworld.com for upcoming dates
Part I: 11:00-11:30, Part II: 12:00-12:30
$20 cover
Look for discount coupons ($5 off) scattered on cars on the Sunset Strip or handed out at dance studios across L.A.

Rachel Levin
January 30, 2004

Authors have literary magazines. Poets have open mikes. Painters have studio open houses.

But where do top choreographers go when they want an outlet for pure dance experimentation and creativity, divorced from the demands of commercial profit and mass appeal?

The monthly Carnival Choreographer's Ball at the Key Club in West Hollywood is such a rare venue. It is a place where choreographers get access to a free stage and a packed-in crowd to showcase their most experimental work. The Ball features choreographers who are working in the world of commercial concerts and music videos, assuring that the level of skill and talent is first-rate. But the pieces in Carnival, though thoroughly titillating for the audience, are primarily a forum for these major talents to indulge in what makes them laugh or gets them excited.

Each piece in Carnival is like a mini-musical, with its own theme, costumes, props, and style of dance. Any kind of dance music seems welcome, from techno to pop to Irish, but hip-hop is king here.

At the Five Year Anniversary show Wednesday night, the Electric Boogaloos, the original group that introduced this robotic style 27 years ago, performed their signature popping and locking. The descendants of boogaloo are today's breakdancing crews, and at least four of Wednesday's Carnival pieces were built around crowd-pleasing breakdancing sequences. In another homage to hip-hop's roots, Khalid Freeman, the choreographer of the show "Stomp," combined hip-hop with the foot-tapping, hand-slapping rhythm of an African-American step show.

Going beyond these classic hip-hop staples, many pieces imported hip-hop into the wildest themes. The opening piece was a sort of Kung Fu fighting spectacle that combined hip-hop with martial arts moves for a humorous and acrobatic performance. Another piece by Chonique and Lisette (choreographers for 50 Cent and Aaliyah) took us backstage at a fashion show, where the popping and locking moves of hip-hop were used to simulate the movement of mannequins. Hip-hop was also transported into the intergalactic world of "Star Wars," where a Darth Vader on stilts sashayed amongst hip-hopping Storm Troopers and topless female C3POs.

As the bare-breasted droids suggest, there is no dearth of sexual playfulness at Carnival. One piece was a gender-bending Riverdance in which a male dancer turned the stiff Irish folkdance into a queer extravaganza. A modern dance piece featured men dancing in nothing but tattered trashbags about the waist. A burlesque piece showed off three female dancers oozing sexiness in mere white cotton panties and bras.

It definitely takes a lot to shock this savvy audience. As the MC pointed out, no one whooped like a drunken man in a strip bar when the topless CP3Os pretended to twist their breasts to tune into an outer-space frequency. Instead, the crowd seemed calm at displays of nudity and sexual suggestiveness, absorbing them as art rather than as pornography. Leslie Scott's piece was a commentary on the surprising sophistication of the audience. It began with two dancers in bed making love, and the dance that followed was the realization of the woman's sexual fantasy, complete with sex toys and masturbation. Halfway through the piece, the MC interrupted in a mock condemnation of its raunchiness. "Get these dancers something funky!" he said, and the piece moved from explicit sexuality into sheer hip-hop energy and joy. But the punch line was that no one was phased by the first half at all.

While profit is not a part of the evening since dancers and choreographers are not paid (nor do they pay) to showcase their work, all involved are looking for exposure. They know that in the audience will be celebrities like regular attendees Wade Robson (choreographer for Britney Spears and 'Nsynch), Debbie Allen, and Cris Judd. Christina Aguilera, Justin Timberlake, Pink, and Usher have also been sighted at Carnival performances, and more often than not, they're looking for dancers and choreographers for their own videos and tours.

If you're a dancer in the audience at Carnival, it's hard to just stand and watch. The snippets of dance fantasy open your mind to infinite possibilities for the intersection of hip-hop dance with themes from popular culture. If you're not yet ready to imagine crafting a piece for Carnival, it's equally exciting to picture yourself dancing in a venue where hip-hop dancers are the main event, not the booty girls in the background.

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