By now we’ve seen clever fusions of street dance with contemporary dance (hello, 605 Collective), and we’ve seen street dance in its most commercial forms (heard of So You Think You Can Dance?). But it’s surprisingly rare to see authentic hip-hop on a performing-arts stage.
Enter Yvon Soglo, the Ottawa urban-dance choreographer-performer known as Crazy Smooth, who’s coming to town with his cross-country tour of the show IZM. Speaking from his hometown before his company Bboyizm hits the road, he says he loves the challenges of taking a form out of the realm of B-battles and onto the stage. “How am I going to go on-stage and at the same time stay authentic but be very aware of where I am?” he says. “I’m not at a jam, I’m not at a club—that’s what excites me.”
The Benin-born Soglo has made a bit of a career out of bringing arts-world legitimacy to B-boying. About seven years ago, he earned the country’s first Canada Council for the Arts grant to do research into hip-hop. With it, he travelled to New York and Philadelphia, studying with masters like Rennie Harris and the Rock Steady Crew’s Crazy Legs, and immersing himself in the street-dance scene. He came back renewed and set about taking his company, now called Bboyizm, into fresh performing-arts territory. He mostly concentrated on teaching young dancers, but his first break came with an invitation to the Canada Dance Festival’s Hip Hop 360 program, and by 2009 the main event had asked him to create a piece.
“I was going to theatres a lot more, and in that same year I saw [Vancouver’s] 605 Collective and I went to the National Arts Centre to see Hofesh Shechter and Alvin Ailey—I saw a lot of stuff I really liked,” he says. “And I thought to myself, ‘Why couldn’t my dance or my culture be on a stage like that and perform something at the same level of professionalism, but stay authentic?’ ”
Soglo knew he wanted to get away from the commercial side of street dance, one that often reduces the form to tricks. But he didn’t want to fuse pure hip-hop with contemporary dance. “I’m a contemporary-dance fan...but that’s not where I’m from and it would be disrespectful to my culture to water it down,” he explains. “I want to pay homage to my culture by being authentic.”
And so the show IZM, which is coming to the Cultch Historic Theatre, was born. Soglo has managed to take all the spectacular back flips, spins, and floor work of hip-hop and present them within a choreographed framework that not only speaks to the roots of hip-hop but comments on the nature of art itself. One of his favourite moments in the show is when he slows down the normally warp-speed movement to a slow jazz number.
He says of the 10-member piece: “When people come to see IZM, they’ll be very surprised. When I created it, I wanted it to be a show that a hard-core street dancer can enjoy, one that a contemporary dancer can come and say, ‘Wow, it’s authentic,’ and have it done in a professional and in a contemporary way.”
For proof that Soglo has heightened the legitimacy of his art form on-stage, look no further than the fact he’s been chosen by the Canadian Dance Assembly to deliver this country’s official message for International Dance Day on April 29.
Yes, life these days is pretty much off the hook. “I love performing, and as a street dancer, individually, I pretty much achieved most of what I wanted to do. The performing-arts world or stage gives me the opportunity to talk about other things. I don’t necessarily get the chance to do that when I’m going to a jam or battling.”
Bboyizm’s IZM is at the Cultch Historic Theatre from Tuesday to next Sunday (April 24 to 29).