J.U.i.C.E. is not your ordinary hip-hop dance show. The annual one-nighter is more like a showcase of works in progress covering a variety of hip-hop-inspired dance styles, from old school lockin’ to new school krumping. The common thread that runs through all of the pieces is passion; and the celebration of peace. While the non-profit arts organization J.U.i.C.E. (Justice by Uniting in Creative Energy) pushes peace year-round, this event is specifically dedicated to the concept in the themes of the dance and emcee performances and call and response of the host D. Sabela Grimes. “When I say peace, you say peace.” “Peace.” “Peace.”
At its core, tonight’s hip-hop fest is about the kids. It might seem ironic that a dance form obsessed with battling can provide the foundation for community unity. But this is exactly what J.U.i.C.E. encourages. The fest’s performances are fun, gimmicky and brimming with creative costumes from superheroes to comic book characters. Oftentimes the visuals overpower the dance, confirming that the show’s producers are well aware of the short attention span of their largely young audience. The crowd (parents, too) seems delighted by the imaginative outfits of Buddha Stretch, Westbound and Antics Performance, and the cutesy skits of Baby Boogaloo and his mini b-boy crew.
A few of the groups rise above the kiddie culture. Host D. Sabela Grimes, who subtly shows off some of the best moves of the night, succeeds at appealing to both young and old. Serving as a bridge between the generations, he flirts with those who know what flirting looks like, and cool to all the rest with his big, gold Vlado kicks. But the hugest highlight of the evening appears in the middle of the second act. Four fellows, Shiyoshi featuring Kiminari and Kairi, boogie to the beat, showing off poppin’, lockin’, breakin’ and straightforward hip-hop choreography. Fluid and fierce, the rhythms direct their bodies as if the two entities (beat and body) are in intimate conversation. As part of the night’s promise of peace, Kiminari and Kairi will deliver 1,000 Origami cranes that the audience makes to the Children’s Peace Monument in Hiroshima, Japan, on Oct 7.
One act that impresses every year with their incredulous feats of physical strength, flexibility and grace is Lux Aeterna. Led by Jacob “Kujo” Lyons, the co-artistic director of the J.U.i.C.E. fest, the five seemingly non-human men and women balance on each other’s body parts, lift each other in jaw-dropping formations and wind and twist around each other like ripped ninjas. It’s slow, still movement that broadly interprets what hip-hop, or dance for that matter, is. Rather, it rests in its own locomotive universe somewhere between gymnastics, weightlifting and rock climbing. Amy “CatFox” Campion, the other co-artistic director of the J.U.i.C.E. fest, stands out in her Antics Performance troupe, as she does in any group, as the badass, tiny, hard-rock dynamo who can b-boy with the best of them. She hides herself in a massive swirl of motion, lost in a blockbuster fight sequence in which the whole overpowers the individuals, who each bring their own unique set of skills to the floor.
The Versa-Style Dance Company looks like they are having the most fun. Swinging to a song and style they call home, they smile with their feet and play with each other like they’ve been doing it for years. Simply dressed and round-the-way looking, they make synchronizing a funky bunch look easy, when you know it’s not. The motley crew is the perfect wrap-up for the show.
J.U.i.C.E. shows kids that dancing is a creative outlet that’s fun to watch, but even more fun to do, every Saturday from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. at MacArthur Park Recreational Center. There the youth can decide: To B or not to B-boy.