Hip-hop in the theatre often relies on spectacular physical feats and party music. Robert Hylton’s company Urban Classicism aims for something different: a considered, choreographed response to the music, and an infusion of influences from ballet, jazz and modern dance.
Their current show Verse&Verses, a sequence of 18 short “tracks”, projects an outsize turntable, complete with spinning vinyl disc and pickup needle, onto the dance floor. The opening number, a “bonus track” by guest choreographer Pervez, is fun but conventional: the six dancers swagger about both in formation and with solo turns, showcasing kicks, backspins and improbably angled headstands.
Hylton’s following solo is more low key, but more intriguing. With his puppety pop-and-lock style, he seems all joints and bones at one moment, all wormy wriggles the next. He orchestrates his body like an ensemble, triggered by the different musical layers and textures. As a chord slides downwards he sinks into a knock-kneed crouch, one dangling hand echoing the tap and tremor of the cymbal.
He pumps his legs like a sprinter on starting blocks, but instead of racing through the track he just gets into the groove
That sense of digging into the music (by composer/DJ Billy Biznizz) sets the tone for the rest of the show. In one section, Rose Chu and Jake Nwogu mark out the beat with leggy balletic kicks and fluttering jumps, offset by Marso Riviere and Paula Vacarey clinging close to the floor as they rock and rebound from hand and foot. There’s a great visual gag as a close-up animation of a vinyl record is projected on to the back wall while Riviere squats at the side. He pumps his legs like a sprinter on starting blocks, but instead of racing through the track he just gets into the groove, letting the music bounce him slowly forward.
Verse&Verses ends on a reflective note – Hylton is more arty than party. Though he has some great ideas, he could develop them more, whether in terms of composition, theatrical idea or physical experiment. As it is, each brief track ends just when you feel the choreography is about to go further.