Got to see the Groovaloos stage show at the Joyce Theater last night with some friends. It's a very impressive hip-hop dance show with the most fully realized combination of dance performance, staging, sound, and theater that I've ever seen staged. For someone who wants to see an energetic, well-presented demonstration of b-boying, you can't go wrong with "Groovaloo."
On the plus side, several of the numbers were very inventive and jaw-dropping. But the actual story-line is kind of a mess that didn't elevate the production beyond simple entertainment.
The overarching narrative of "Groovaloo" is kind of like "A Chorus Line," in that you learn some of the personal narratives of the different members of the crew, why they are dancers and what they struggle with. The director probably wisely has the dancers not do any vocals, but instead plays voiceovers of the dancers telling stories as they perform. In several cases, I found this distracting since the dancers are obviously not playwrights or voice actors. I'm not sure how else this could have been done, other than abandoning the "real-ness" of the stories and using trained voice actors and a beefed up, fictional narrative.
The dancers' stories weave in an out of each other, similar to how the dancers themselves mix themselves together in different configurations. For me, this meant that I often forgot what was the primary motivation or struggle of the particular dancer I was watching. Is this the one who's father wants him to get a job and stop dancing, or the one who can't freestyle, or the one who is haunted by personal demons? They all kind of jumbled up for me.
The most affecting, and well-known, story is Steve "Boogieman" Stanton, who was critically injured by a gunshot to his back and nearly gave up dancing. It's a moving and inspiring story. Unfortunately, the power of this is somewhat diminished by the fact that Boogieman is seen throughout the show dancing up a storm, so you know when you get to his personal tragedy that he manages to get his groove back on.
Of the performances, my favorites have to be the two big b-boying setpieces. One involves a bunch of workmen who start doing stunts for each other, and another is a straight up b-boy battle that is top-notch. All the b-boys and b-girls are quite talented, but by far my favorite was Daniel "Cloud" Campos. Cloud's dancing combines very smooth flow and unexpected explosions of movement that is captivating. Here's a series of clips of him dancing.
That said, the popping piece "Once Upon a Time" was mesmerizing and beautiful. It's a dream-like piece, involving four "robots" and one young woman who finds herself being manipulated by them.
I was less impressed by the locking, particularly "Lock It Up." Locking is either immensely entertaining and fun or it totally takes all the air out of the room. It's a very campy and silly dance, so it really depends on the individual performer to sell it to you. The actual movement vocabulary of locking is probably the most constrained and limited of all the hip-hop dance styles. So it's hard to bring something fresh to this form that hasn't changed that much since David Campbell created it two decades ago.
At the end of the evening, I was very entertained by the dancing that I saw. Hip-hop dance, particularly b-boying, is so exciting and fun to see done by trained dancers who have paid their dues. But I wasn't emotionally moved or touched by anything I saw. "Groovaloo" was extremely entertaining… and that's it.