Tuesday, September 20, 2005

REVIEW: Rumble (O’Reilly Theatre)

MTV pioneered the notion of a hip-hopera, to surprisingly dull effect. And everybody from Baz Luhrmann to Levi’s jeans has attempted to add some ghetto style to Shakespeare. But it falls to a German company to bring hip-hop to the Bard, combining freestyle street dancing (alongside more academic contemporary dance) to tell (almost) the story of Juliet and her Romeo.

Rumble features utterly stunning breakdancing that had the first night audience regularly erupting into appreciative cheers and applause. With good cause. You might not have realised that what your life was missing was a fine display of the art breakdancing, driven by fantastic physical wit and scarcely believable athleticism. But after a few minutes being swept along with the raw energy of Rumble, and you’ll know it was.

But with that rawness comes a certain, well, rawness. While the breakdancing justifies the price of admission, Rumble is far less effective when it comes to moving through the narrative of the star-crossed lovers. As they might say in the hip hop community, the joint had distinct problems with its “flow”. Scenes seem to disconnect from each other, and some routines (the non-hip hop ones largely) too often lacked a real place in the evening’s entertainment.

One might imagine that driving proceedings along with a live DJ might have given the show more coherence and liquidity. It was actually a surprise that the company had made do without. The presence of a live selecta might also have weeded out some of the distinctly unhip hop music.

As it was, the swing from soft techno, to reggae, to Latin, to jazz always felt like a departure from what was best about the show: the miraculous battle of muscles and gravity that is breakdancing.

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