FREESTYLING WITH ATTITUDE
BY LAURA MICHAELS • Photography by Erik Kabik
If only I were a spry, invincible 10-year-old once again…
Jabbawockeez make head spins and body contortions look like a breeze – even sometimes, like they’re walking on air! Yeah, if only I could go back in time to that bendable-bodied “Gumby” of a young teen (actually, I was never that limber to begin with). But – if I could – I’d be rollin’ on the floor spinning (even “shuffling”, if I knew how to do that). And I’m sure that’s what every kid that came to this show was thinking – that they couldn’t wait to get home and try some of those crazy Jabbawockeez dance moves.
Jabbawockeez have been in their new home performing their headlining show “PRISM” at the Luxor Las Vegas for just shy of a year now and it seems a perfect fit. The custom-built 830-seat intimate showroom makes for an “every seat’s a good seat” performance. Funny, because, if there was ever a show that would seem to not require up-close seats, it might be this one – since there are no facial expressions to miss, as they wear their signature white mannequin-esque styled masks and white gloves during the entire show. And you might think that would get boring – but this dance crew adds every little innuendo possible in a mime fashion. Marcel Marceau would be envious. The audience cracked up at the cheeky antics between the members. Through hand gestures and strong body language, the dance crew emits: “confidence,” “teasing,” “pride,” “playfulness,” “desire,” “ego,” “melancholy,” “humor,” and gives as much “attitude” as Jack Nicholson on crack. It was actually the funny side of their show that I was surprised to encounter. The fellow dancers were constantly joking around with one another, adding comedy throughout the show.
“PRISM” is a celebration of imagination, taking audiences on a journey of dance, music and inspiration. Yet, for me, (and I’ve been a fan since first seeing them become “America’s Best Dance Crew”), the storyline didn’t matter one iota. It was their kick-ass head and backspins that were the jaw-droppers; that, and the killer soundtrack and booming DB’s that made your seat vibrate, made the show like no other. The low end that was coming out of those speakers got me pumped to hit the clubs! Unbelievable sound! The costumes and lighting set the story in motion and dedicated fans of all ages left that theater in awe. And the Jabbawockeez Theater, itself (which was a year in the making) gave the show that extra pop, with its amphitheater-style seating and top-of-the-line acoustics. Fun, inspiring, booty-shaking, and hilarity – the Jabbawockeez accomplished it all. After the show, I spoke to several audience members (actually, they talked to me, even if I just looked in their direction while exiting the theater), saying: “Amazing!” and “That was the coolest!” and “Loved it!” If anyone in that theater wasn’t already a Jabbawockeez fan before the show, they left the theater as a diehard fan afterward.
This ain’t just your everyday urban street break dancing. It’s hip-hop, roboting, breaking, locking, popping, isolation, head-spinning, freestyle dance at its finest! I think it’s that inner feeling of: “Damn, I wish I could do that!” that takes over the audience. The unbelievably agile and fit crew consists of original eight members: Kevin “KB” Brewer, Joe “Punkee” Larot, Phil “SB” Tayag, Chris “Cristyle” Gatdula, Rynan “Kid Rainen” Paguio, Jeff “Phi” Nguyen, Ben “B-TEK” Chung and Tony Tran. Each has their own one-of-a-kind choreography and athleticism. The production included extra dancers to accomplish the “PRISM” story, and they add to the high-energy production, but it’s the original crew that creates that wow factor, each bringing their own original style and unique technique and perspective to the team.
Breakin’ has been a crowd-stopper on the streets of every big city since its first inception in the seventies. Break dancing’s original roots came from the man that knew how to truly “get down wit it,” James Brown. It began with his hit song, “Get On The Good Foot”, in ’69. This new “Good Foot” style of dancing became the forefront of dance battles in Harlem, as street gangs challenged one another in a dance-off – sometimes instead of fighting, other times causing the fight, with poor losers ending it with their fists. The old-style breaking was originally comprised of floor work only, whereas today’s modern break dancing has ventured into the acrobatics of headspins, backspins, handglides, windmills…
The Jabbawockeez take the street skills of traditional break dancing and add to it that special “je-ne-sais-quoi.” I guess you’d call it crowd appeal. They seem to know what the audience likes. That’s probably due to their years of working the stage, first gaining fame on America’s Got Talent in 2006, and then winning the championship on Randy Jackson Presents America’s Best Dance Crew in 2008. The dance crew quickly rose to fame after their victory as “America’s Best Dance Crew”, making appearances all across TV, including “So You Think You Can Dance”, “The Bachelorette”, The Ellen DeGeneres Show”, “Live with Regis and Kelly”, “The TODAY Show”, “Dancing with the Stars”, “106 & Park”, “America’s Next Top Model”, and “The Jimmy Fallon Show”. They have performed at major events, such as the 2008 BET Awards with NeYo, the 2008 MTV Movie Awards, the 2009 NBA All Star Game with Shaq, the 2011 Daytime Emmy Awards with Wayne Brady, and the 2013 Billboard Music Awards with Taylor Swift. They were also featured in a Gatorade campaign along with Michael Jordan, Muhammad Ali, Tiger Woods, Peyton Manning, and many others who are considered the best at what they do. They began touring as the opening act for the New Kids On The Block tour, proving that this dance crew could successfully stand alone as its own act. The crew’s fame even reached across the world, as they toured Asia and Australia.
It was October of 2010 that the world saw freestyle dance break through a new barrier, with the Jabbawockeez successfully headlining their own show on the Las Vegas Strip in their 90-minute “Jabbawockeez Present MÜS.I.C.” (muse-I-see) show at the Monte Carlo Resort and Casino. This show was directed by Emmy-nominated celebrity choreographers and husband/wife team Napoleon and Tabitha D’Umo, who have a heavy list of credits to their names: Celine Dion, Missy Elliott, Jennifer Lopez, Destiny’s Child, and hit television shows like “So You Think You Can Dance” and the theatrical production, “Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour by Cirque du Soleil”. The show also incorporated original music produced by Bay Area heavy hitters, The Bangerz. With an overwhelmingly positive response, the show became a sold-out success. Since then, the show was extended at Monte Carlo three times and concluded at the end of October 2012.
The Jabbawockeez first brought their MÜS.I.C across the Pacific to Australia in April of 2012, and was successfully extended through November of 2012 at Jupiter’s Hotel and Casino. Then with their third residency under their belt, the team took the East Coast by storm for the very first time with a month-long run at Harrah’s Resort Atlantic City from August to September of that same year.
The Jabbawockeez know how to put on a production party experience. Several times throughout the “PRISM” show, the audience wants to get up on their feet and dance with them (and we actually did get to do that a few times). It was the crowd participation moments that brought some of the biggest laughs. Watching the Jabbawockeez’ interaction with their miming hand illustrators was especially hilarious when they grabbed a particularly voluptuous Latina “hot mama” with a “lotta” back-end. After politely positioning her with her butt facing the audience, the music started, and without any inhibitions whatsoever, the “hot mama” proceeded to twerk, shaking her big booty like there was no tomorrow – even rivaling Rihanna. The show’s party music is a dance music lover’s blend of EDM: House, Trance, Trap, Dub Step, Hip Hop, Rap, Pop-Dance, Disco… The Jabba’s even go “Gangnam-Style” for a minute.
Over the course of a decade, the Jabbawockeez have have had incredible success and accomplished more than any dance crew ever before in history – creating a niche for freestyle dance that people can view in an entirely new way. The dance crew has paved the way for new methods of musical expression for audiences worldwide. In August of 2012, the Jabbawockeez were honored for their contribution to the dance community with Hip Hop International’s Living Legend of Hip Hop Award. The dance crew has become legendary as the first dance crew to ever receive this award, and are forerunners in the field of freestyle dance and dance productions. So, if you’re into breakdancing and Hip Hop, Jabbawockeez “PRISM” is a G2G (got-to-go) show.
Jabbawockeez perform at Luxor Las Vegas at 7pm on Sunday through Tuesday, and two shows: 7pm & 9:30pm on Wednesdays and Saturdays. (dark on Thursday and Friday) Luxor.com or JBWKZ.com