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Friday, August 16, 2013

DanceMotion USA 2013 in Review:
Illstyle & Peace Productions in Eastern Europe

by Sophie Shackleton

Since 2010, BAM has produced DanceMotion USA, a program funded by the US Department of State to promote diplomacy and cultural exchange through dance. This year, we sent four contemporary American dance companies to represent the United States on artistic missions in four regions around the world. Using dance as a language, they forged lifelong connections—both artistically and personally—with the artists and audiences they met during their travels.

The dancers were our eyes and ears on tour, sharing videos, photos, and blog posts as they traveled. We are featuring highlights from each of the four companies’ journeys here on the BAM blog.

A lesson we've learned over the three years of DanceMotion USA: there is nothing quite like a hip-hop tour. Hip-hop has spread from its roots in New York’s boroughs to the farthest corners of the earth, and each country, culture, and group has adapted it to its own dance customs, political voices, and youth experiences. This April, we sent Philly’s own Illstyle & Peace Productions to a whole new hip-hop territory: Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia. A whirlwind of cheering fans and breakdance battles, it was not only an incredible experience for everyone involved, but also some of the most fun we’ve had on the internet.

We knew it was going to be an interesting tour back in January when one of the dancers, Liquidelphia, had the Assistant Secretary of State practically breakdancing with him in Washington during his briefing.

On their first day in Ukraine, the company hit the streets of Donetsk to promote their show and got picked up by a local television station. Their message of “peace, love, and respect for everyone” spread through orphanages, huge sold-out workshops in airplane hangars, and standing-room-only performance halls. They got the US Ambassador to show his moves onstage in Donetsk. Liquidelphia taught teens how to pop in Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv. J-Spin did the top rock with little kids. In Kyiv, Peace was a guest judge for Hip-Hop Ukraine’s national competition—we had never seen so many crews in so many amazing outfits.

For many dancers in the company, it was their first time out of the United States, and they made sure no one back home—from friends, to fans, to family—missed a moment. Following them on Instagram was an experience unto itself. We saw them eat eggs, buy new hats, and travel the misty miles of the countryside. We saw them warm up, make new friends, have hair problems, do back flips—and we saw them inspire.

Belarus brought one of the funniest TV spots from 2013. Then a chariot tour around Minsk. Backflips in American flag shorts. Screaming fans. But above all, some incredible connections through dance: Peace led a class for kids with Down Syndrome. Girls learned how to beat box. And then one of the most moving moments: the company’s hip-hop workshop for wheelchair-bound students. We watched as Illstyle left Belarus, transformed by the country.

And then there was Russia, the behemoth land mass. First stop was Moscow, where the crew met the owner of the Brooklyn Nets (did you know he was Russian? Or that his foundation sponsored part of their tour?) Liquidelphia took us on a tour of the city streets. Deeper in Siberia, they showed us their cabins and climbed a snowy mountain with BAM President Karen Brooks Hopkins. Alex, their lighting designer, took beautiful photos of sunsets, landscapes, and lighting dimmers. After each workshop, more and more young people continued to pour out their love for the company over social media. Everyone wanted their photo taken with the company. Everywhere, people wanted to be not only a part of hip-hop, but a part of the global community that Illstyle was building.


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