GhettOriginal also includes a deejay and, for one piece, an onstage rapper, but the emphasis (for all its theatrical storytelling) is purely and delightfully on break-dance. The show (said to average about 75 minutes but running a bit under at the reviewed performance) is broken into 10 pieces, some having vague plotlines, a couple with unobtrusive voiceover narration and all displaying the varied influences that make hip-hop the most exciting mongrel art since rock ‘n’ roll.
Cast bios credit inspirations as diverse as “Soul Train,” the Joffrey Ballet, kung fu and Shields & Yarnell, and no small appeal of “Jam” is the idiosyneratic display of each dancer’s style — and the meshing of those signature moves into a community of movement. The full company opens the show with a number called “Concrete Jungle,” the only piece that overtly expresses the rage that fuels much of hip-hop culture.
In the opener, an African drum beat sets the rhythm for a neighborhood break-dance competition — a gathering that turns violent when unseen (but heard) police open fire. Unfortunately, this single nod to a hard edge is somewhat simple-minded, owing more to “West Side Story” than gangsta’ rap. Even so, the dancing is never less than enthralling.
Mime also gets its due. A dancer who calls himself Mr. Wiggles lives up to the moniker in a bit involving a marionette’s revolt against his string-puller. In “The Shadow Knows,” Ken Swift dances and boxes with his shadow (dancer Flow Master behind a scrim), a clever update of Harpo Marx’s famous mirror routine.
“Who’s the Mac,” one of the more extended pieces, is a noirish parody with zoot-suited guys and gun-toting dolls, and does a nice job of sliding period music and steps into the hip-hop mix. A later takeoff on kung fu movies, complete with badly dubbed dialogue, is even better.
Two of the best routines scrap plot altogether. In “Portrait of a Freeze,” four dancers go solo, pair of and come together in a frenzied kaleidoscope of one-upmanship. And in “Moments,” six of the dancers, all bare-chested, coalesce into something resembling a multi-armed Hindu god.
Mention should also be made of dancer Kwikstep’s amazing head spins and Scott Ialacei’s deejay mixing. Peter Kaczorowski’s lighting adds immeasurably to the show’s impact. The sound, by One Dream Sound, is crisp and, yes, loud.
Andrew Jackness’ brick-walled set, covered in graffiti murals by Erni Vales, is fine, though not as inspired as everything else on stage. No matter: With Crazy Legs, Kwikstep and the rest in full motion, who’ll notice?