Culture Shock LA and Versa-Style Bring Hip-Hop Dance to the Ford

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Culture Shock LA
Culture Shock Los Angeles. Photo by Ja Tecson.

“Are you ready for your solo?” Anthony Lee, artistic director of Culture Shock Los Angeles, asks a small boy this question, as he lifts him to the sky. The kid shakes his head enthusiastically as the two head toward the rest of the hip-hop dance collective gathered on the top floor of the South Bay Dance Center. Lee calls places for a final run-through of Roy Meets World, a one-off performance this Friday at Ford Theatres.

It’s not the only night hip-hop will hit the Ford stage this summer. On October 5, Versa-Style Dance Company will premiere Furious Beauty, its latest evening-length work. Ford Theatres continues to support LA’s growing hip-hop dance community, and troupes like Culture Shock L.A. and Versa-Style are leading the charge to bring street dance to the stage.

Featuring 65 dancers ages 5 to 35, mostly from Culture Shock L.A. with a few special guests, Roy Meets World takes cues from Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist and the Hindu tradition of the seven chakras, or energy centers of the body. It’s an adventure story about a boy who encounters and overcomes challenges as he journeys through life and, ultimately, becomes a man.

Anthony Lee
Anthony Lee

The inspiration for this year’s Ford show (last June’s was titled BEauty) was personal. “One of things that we all as a unit found was we’re all at that discovering stage of our lives,” says Lee, “trying to figure out who we are, what we want to do, what we’re meant to do. We wanted to take that concept and make that relatable to everyone.”

In order for Roy to earn his eagle feather and return to his village as a man, he must first travel through the seven chakras, which are represented as colorful places.

He starts in the red mountains, goes to the orange groves and across the yellow bridge to the emerald tavern, and through the blue desert up the indigo mountains.

Each place/color coincides with a chakra. For instance, Roy experiences love for the first time in the emerald tavern, the heart chakra, and struggles with confusion and uncertainty in the blue desert, the throat chakra.

There wasn’t a plan to match different dance styles with specific scenes, but on occasion, it happened. “One scene is dedicated to locking [a street style Soul Train made popular in the ’70s],” says Lee. “In the blue desert scene, Roy gets lost and starts seeing mirages. Everything about that is very animated. So we have guest performers from Poreotics [season five winners of the reality TV series America’s Best Dance Crew] visually trip out our audience. We use the different styles in what I like to think are clever ways to bring the traditional forms of hip-hop movement to a new and fresh adventurous tale that anyone can understand.”

Roy Meets World is Culture Shock L.A.’s last big show of their 2012-2013 season. It’s also the group’s annual benefit concert. Each year, the nonprofit community organization donates these proceeds to a cause. KIPP Iluminar Academy, an elementary school in East L.A., will receive support in fall 2013 for its new dance education program.

Community outreach, as well as performance, is an important part of Culture Shock L.A.’s mission. The dancers are constantly performing and teaching at schools and interacting with kids in their community.

Versa-Style Dance Company is another dance ensemble, which dedicates itself to uplifting and influencing youth through hip-hop movement and culture. Just as Culture Shock L.A. has junior groups — Future Shock (13-18), Mighty Shock (8-12) and Mini Shock (under age 7) — Versa-Style boasts Next Generation, ages 15-20. 

Versa-Style Theater Company
Versa-Style Dance Company

 

Versa-Style’s Furious Beauty will be a mix of revamped Versa-Style classics and new work.

“The Ford is such a huge step for us,” says company manager Harry Weston. “It’s an appropriate next step. We’re bringing back the Versa-Style people know and love with brand new works. We also want to challenge what people think Versa-Style can do.”

Jackie Lopez and Leigh Foaad founded Versa-Style in 2005, and in the last eight years, the troupe has traveled the world performing and teaching hip-hop dance. Versa-Style has also made a huge impact in its hometown. Touring high schools, holding community classes and representing at battles, Versa-Style is one of L.A.’s best-known hip-hop organizations. It has performed full-length works several times at the Rosenthal Theater at Inner City Arts, but never for a crowd of more than 1,000. October 5 promises to be a watershed moment for the group.

In February, the group traveled to India for the Chennai Festival 2013. The dancers taught workshops and performed in front of thousands of shoppers in a mall.

“India was incredible on a lot of levels,” says Weston. “We saw the realest, truest, purest example of the power of dance, the power of hip-hop culture. Going to a third world country, it’s poverty on a whole other level. To go there and see this poverty and lack of resources, but then to see how that translates to this deep, intense, raw love of hip-hop — it changes you as a human being to see these people love this art and dance so much. It also changes you as an artist. It makes you appreciate your art so much more and what you can give to people. These young men and women who took our classes in India, I don’t think I’ve ever seen dancers work so hard. That intense need and want to learn is inspiring.”

Weston hopes that Versa-Style’s enthusiasm for and love of hip-hop culture is infectious this fall at the Ford. “We thrive on audience energy,” he says. “It’s where we get our juice.”

Looking beyond 2013, Weston is optimistic that L.A. audiences will see more street dance on the stage.

Harry Weston
Harry Weston

“I’m happy community organizations are utilizing hip-hop dance in L.A.,” says Weston. “There’s the Gr818ers, Homeland Cultural Center, LA Funky Soul. People in L.A. understand that hip-hop can be such a powerful vehicle for mentorship and uplifting at-risk youth. The Ford is bringing hip-hop to the stage. We were just a part of Street Dance LA at the Nate Holden Performing Arts Center in April. ContraTiempo has a residency at Moss Theater at New Roads School. Street dance is being brought into schools and theaters. There’s the Hip-Hop School of Arts in Pomona. It’s incredible there’s a school devoted to hip-hop.”

With Roy Meets World and Furious Beauty, Culture Shock L.A. and Versa-Style are successfully creating hip-hop dance theater for all ages. Ford Theatres is giving them the space to share their passion projects — which stay true to the essence of street dance while making it accessible to everyone.

Roy Meets World, Ford Theatres, 2580 Cahuenga Blvd. East, Hollywood. Friday at 8:30 pm. Tickets: $12-25. fordtheatres.org. 323-461-3673.

Furious Beauty, Ford Theatres, 2580 Cahuenga Blvd. East, Hollywood. October 5 at 8 pm. Tickets: $12-50. fordtheatres.org. 323-461-3673.

**Culture Shock Los Angeles photos by Ja Tecson; Versa-Style Dance Company photos courtesy of Versa-Style

Jessica Koslow

Jessica Koslow