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Hip hop-inspired IZM brings street dance moves to the stage

Dance showcase features breaking, rocking and abs

Explosive energy, brisk synchronized moves and exposed, muscled torsos compose IZM, a 60-minute hip-hop dance show that slides into to the Cultch, April 24 to 29.

But choreographer and dancer Crazy Smooth, a.k.a. Yvon Soglo, said the stripped down finale isn't meant to spotlight dancers' ripped bodies.

"It's really what the 'izm' is, to express yourself purely and not be embellished by anything," he said.

The self-taught Soglo first came up with the concept of "izm" when he returned from studying with some of the U.S.'s top street dancers in New York in 2005, with the support of the first full Canada Council for the Arts grant awarded to a b-boy.

"Every time I was trying to explain it to somebody, there was more like sounds coming out of my mouth. You know when somebody has the ugh, that ugh, I decided to call that the izm," he said. "It's that substance that you have when you're dancing, when you let go of everything and you're one with the music, you're definitely not thinking anymore, it's a state of mind."

Soglo saw dance performances by Hofesh Shechter Company, La La La Human Steps and another choreographed by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui for Eastman at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa in 2009 and 2010 that inspired him to mount a theatre show. He wanted to showcase the equivalent level of technique and professionalism of his Ottawa/Gatineau-based company Bboyizm, while staying true to hip hop's roots.

"A lot of these companies that I mentioned- they did have some type of street dance influence, whether it was from the movement that they were doing or just the flare of their pieces," the 31-year-old said. "Street dance in terms of fusion has been seen, but an authentic street dance company, there's not many."

IZM, which premiered at the Canada Dance Festival in Ottawa in 2010, begins with a monologue meant to challenge notions about hip-hop culture. The choreography explores the tension between hip hop as art or entertainment throughout.

"There's this dance renaissance, there's a thousand TV shows that talk about dance, everything seems to be geared towards entertainment- Everybody's trying to get the latest move, everybody's trying to do whatever's in, and so you kind of forget about the artistry," Soglo said. "In the piece I wanted to put both things there so people could see, without saying one is better than the other. But if I'm doing art, then I'm not trying to entertain you, necessarily. I'm trying to say something. I'm trying to get a certain emotion out, and if my art does entertain you, well then it's great, but it's not meant for that."

Ten of Canada's most talented hip hop dancers, including Bourik, Chilly, Melly Mel and Lost Child, will bust out breaking and "rocking"-inspired moves to music mixed by Dp One during IZM.

Soglo says rocking started in the boroughs of New York before break dancing, in the late 1960s or early 1970s. In rocking, two dancers face each other and mimic the other's moves to make fun of or humiliate their opponent.

"Basically, dancing, telling the other person that you're better than them," he said.

Soglo choreographed one number where dancers perform combinations of moves at a slower tempo with the same intensity as when they're moving fast, while black lights accent the white rubber that edges their shoes. He wanted audiences to appreciate hip-hop artistry alongside acrobatic feats.

"I've had some people tell me that they've felt very compelled, it made them rethink their concept of what hip hop was and the izm. Some people leave and they're just overjoyed and happy with life in general because of the show," Soglo said. "It is a rollercoaster of emotions."

IZM starts at 8 p.m. at 1895 Venables St. There are post-show talkbacks April 25 and 26. Tickets start at $16. For more information, see Twitter: @Cheryl_Rossi

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