nytheatre.com review by Russell M. Kaplan
December 4, 2009
Urban dance crew The Groovaloos are clearly as ambitious as they are mind-bogglingly talented. Their new show Groovaloo Freestyle—resurrected after a sold-out run at the Joyce Theatre—finds the 14-member group molding their jaw-dropping physical prowess into a theatrical format that allows them to share their personal stories. And it works. Fusing elements of theatre, slam poetry, and of course the super-human dance skills for which they're already known, this show provides not only 90 minutes of pure fun, but a solid argument to naysayers for hip-hop dance as viable storytelling art.
Freestyle is broken into 28 episodic dances that tell the stories of Groovaloo's members, as well as how the group originally came together. The stories—which range from whimsical to quite dark—are narrated in part by recordings of the characters' disembodied voices, freeing up the dancers to express themselves solely through their impressive dance moves.
Actually, "impressive" is a pretty gross understatement for these guys: what they pull off with their bodies is at times unimaginable, as they seemingly defy gravity, space, or time like it was no big deal. Their solos and freestyle freakouts are so athletic and off-the-hook, that it's all the more astounding when they lock in with a group precision that implies a pack of funky robots tapped into the same mainframe.
But robots they clearly are not. Humanity and truth are what elevate this show above an empty display of virtuosity, because these people really want us to understand why dance is such an important part of their lives. The themes of the dances tap into the members' insecurities as often as their joys: there's the ballerina who's too self-conscious to improvise, a few young dancers dealing with troubled family lives, and the near-fatal shooting of founding member Steven "Boogeyman" Stanton (who performs the bulk of the show with a cane). The voiceover narratives can sometimes be a little clunky and heavy-handed, but the movement is inspiring and the intentions are so unabashedly earnest, it takes a pretty big scrooge not to be affected.
Groovaloo is also beefed up by a production that's as in-your-face as the dancing, driven by Charlie Morrison's dynamic lighting design, a hard-hitting soundtrack, and co-creator Danny Cistone's fast-paced direction, which infuses far more variety and nuance from the material than one might expect.
Groovaloo is not an intellectual experience—it's unabashedly spectacle-driven—but it's also emotionally resonant in a way that other such shows should take a cue from. It may be the perfect holiday escapism, especially for those who like their death-defying feats of funky awesomeness served up with some depth.