Nonstop musical action in the break/s: a mixtape for stage
 

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posted Friday, July 3, 2009 - Volume 37 Issue 27

Nonstop musical action in the break/s: a mixtape for stage
by Miryam Gordon - SGN A&E Writer

the break/s:
a mixtape for stage
ACT Theatre
Through July 12


the break/s is a tour de force of energy and dance and story, performed in a virtuoso way by Marc Bamuthi Joseph (known as Bamuthi - Bah-moo-tee). Technically, he has a beat boxer, Tommy Shepherd (aka Soulati) and a turntablist, DJ Excess, on stage with him for the whole time, and a technician for lights and video that is crucial to the program. But fundamentally, this is just him on stage for 80 intense minutes of nonstop action. That said, there is an incredibly beautiful musical interlude with Soulati near the end.

Joseph is a hip-hop artist. His performance piece is about hip-hop, and he does explain it a bit. But hip-hop is only the way "in" to what he has to say. He is a slam champion, and much of what he says is poetic. He explores the cracks between the black and white of black and white; if hip-hop is for blacks, or is it selling out if it's for whites; if he loses "authenticity" or credibility among hip-hop fans if they knew that he has a part Asian child and a white woman lover.

It's in the "breaks" between that we all really live. There are no answers, but we often want our art to explain things to us, help us categorize, help us understand. Joseph's piece doesn't help you answer anything. It describes his journey, the one he is clearly still on, the one he is on with the audience. "This story begins in the middle," he intones, over and over again, as he details different locations in the world he has visited, often alluding to waking up disoriented to where he is. Each story begins in the middle, and never gets to the end.

None of that description is a criticism. One should embrace the gray, allow things to stay muddy, let Joseph lead you into your own breaks as you watch him work. Joseph dances, hip-hop, jive, jazz, modern dance. He reaches across the circumference of a circle of light on the floor, trying to find the edges. Every once in a while, just to get a tiny break, there are video interviews with people about what they think hip-hop is, from older artists to teens to little kids who just "are."

He has had unusual experiences, like going to Senegal and meeting a white woman, whom everyone treats as black, and looks at him like a "white" American. He speaks of his Haitian heritage and the grandmother who wants him to find love, no matter what other human characteristics she brings with her. Ultimately, his journey is about finding himself in-between, and he shares that with us.

Joseph is also a teacher of hundreds of young people and college students. He spends a lot of time helping others find a way to express themselves in "spoken word." He has worked with Youth Speaks, and there is a vibrant Youth Speaks chapter here in Seattle. The people that brought Joseph here want to reach those young people and invite them to experience theater that they can identify with.

The Hansberry Project at ACT Theatre is part of the innovative programs that ACT is developing, at what seems a fevered pace. Hansberry is devoted to African-American writing and stories. They are hoping to reach a broader audience, and this performer, in particular, is their hope for reaching the younger generation, to entice them to ACT and to theater.

Those who should not miss this performance: hip-hop artists, slam poets, dancers, lovers of dance, lovers of poetry, lovers of performance art, lovers of theater, people of dark color, people of light color. Everyone else can stay home. For more information, go to www.acttheatre.org or call 206-292-7676.

Comments on reviews go to sgncritic@gmail.com.



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