Randy Jackson Presents America's Best Dance Crew LIVE October 8 Wells Fargo Theatre
Most concert events inspired by television series couldn't seem cheesier if they were funded by Velveeta -- but the current tour of notable contestants from the MTV program America's Best Dance Crew is a notable exception to this rule. Sure, some elements of the extravaganza felt a bit forced, and the product placement at the heart of the enterprise couldn't have been more overt if the performers were outfitted like NASCAR drivers. But the astonishing skills of dancers like JabbaWockeeZ phenom Kid Rainen (interviewed here in an extensive Q&A), as well as a structure that chipped away at the barrier between the dancers on stage and those in the audience, turned the production into a joyous celebration of perpetual motion.
The gig was far from sold out; the Wells Fargo Theatre might have been half full. Yet everyone present was clearly thrilled to be there, in part because many of them were dancers themselves. Seemingly every B-boy and B-girl squad in the region was represented, and the hype-spouting emcee who hosted the proceedings took advantage.
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The emcee was accompanied by "Energy Man," a costumed dancer (complete with a bi-color JabbaWockeeZ-style mask) sponsored by Vitamin Water, the company backing the tour. But against all odds, this living, breathing billboard was actually pretty entertaining, sprinting around the arena as if he had a hellhound on his tail. In fact, the folks chasing him were usually fans wanting the free T-shirts or backstage passes the emcee teased on a regular basis -- and when Energy Man stopped, it was usually to help stage impromptu battles between attendees in the aisles, near the stage, and all over the venue.
The relatively uncrowded nature of the venue aided this shtick immeasurably, since audience members were able to rush to different parts of the building and gather around the dancers, rooting them on as a DJ kicked out the jams. Better yet, the participants, including several children who spun, bounded, popped and locked with jaw-slackening aplomb, proved far from second-rate. Indeed, a lot of the dancing before the show and during the intermission was every bit as exciting as the stuff ticket buyers paid to see.
Not that any of the crews on the bill slacked off. JabbaWockeez, Fanny Pak, Super Cr3w, Breaksk8 and A.S.I.I.D. burst out of the blocks, delivering carefully coordinated mini-routines filled with gravity-defying stunts, crazy choreography and the sort of athletic prowess that we only occasionally see at Invesco Field or the Pepsi Center. Moreover, they all had distinct personalities that helped give the performance the variety it needed to hold the crowd's interest over the long haul.
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The Breaksk8 members roll around on vintage skates, which tend to smooth out their segments in a way that made their bits seem less exuberant than those by the other teams -- until, that is, one of them flipped in ways that seemed sure to send them ass over teakettles but somehow never did. Fanny Pak used costumes and props in notably eccentric and witty ways. A.S.I.I.D. brought urban grit and hip-hop authenticity to its moments in the spotlight. And Super Cr3w's breakers displayed strength and power that was positively off the charts.
As for the JabbaWockeeZ, they exhibited an artistry and sense of dynamics that's wholly their own. Whereas most of the other crews mainly relied on speed, they often got their biggest responses when they slowed down, transforming themselves into funky mimes -- a description that sounds ridiculous and off-putting but turned out to be anything but. These qualities lend them a gravitas that's only enhanced by their devotion to Gary "Gee One" Kendell, a former member who died amid the group's Dance Crew competition. During an introductory segment, they confirmed online rumors that Kendell passed away in Denver prior to dedicating their night's work to him.
After the opening showcases, the production offered assorted set pieces, some of which succeeded more fully than others. An old-school number that moved from the Seventies to the present day (and featured the Kid Rainen and the other JabbaWockeeZ sans masks and gloves) actually worked -- although watching dancers this incredible do the Soldier Boy dance was a bit like hearing Mozart play "Chopsticks." But a tribute to Michael Jackson and his sister Janet was much more hit-or-miss; the JabbaWockeeZ made the biggest impression, predictably enough, donning Afro wigs and vintage threads to boogie their way through "Dancing Machine." And the faux-battle at the conclusion lacked the suspense of an actual contest, especially when a hyperkinetic bit by Super Cr3w's Mike Murda was prompted by him supposedly chugging (you guessed it) a bottle of Vitamin Water.
All was forgiven when the show ended and the crowd was allowed to rush the stage and gladhand all the dancers, none of whom seemed winded in the slightest. For a concert-goer accustomed to hearing touring musicians whine about the thinness of the air in Colorado after doing nothing more strenuous than strumming a guitar, this scene spoke volumes. This wasn't just a TV-show tie-in. It was the mainstreaming of classic street art -- and fortunately, much of what's great about it survived the process. -- Michael Roberts