The five b-boys are challenging each other. One by one they add another move to an increasingly demanding sequence: elbow freeze, kip-up, flare, air flare, halo. The crowd clearly loves the battling element after the scene has been set and the five characters established in B-BOY by MAAS Theater & Dans, which premiered last Friday at MAAS TD.

Director Jolanda Spoel has created a clearly structured show that leaves plenty of room for the five breakers Dietrich Pott, Kenji Hendriks, Pom Arnold, Remses Rafaela and Tim Jansen to showcase their strengths and share their life stories. Because b-boying is not just dancing, as their voice overs tell us, it’s a lifestyle. It is a way of life. When you enter a new space, you check the floor for bounce. When you buy new shoes, you check them for their dancing qualities. The set in which they perform their feats resembles a jungle gym or a playground, with the men playfully climbing every available crossbar, but also takes the shape of a rudimentary house, reflecting the notion of a breakdance crew as a family.

Like brothers the five performers tease each other, but all in good nature. About Remses’ age, as he approaches forty, about Tim’s appearances on TV shows like Holland’s Got Talent. But growing older is real and forces Remses to allow more time to recover between working the night shift at the hospital and spending his days in the dance studio. He dances with a smile, but the need to adjust worries him. His brothers gather around and cradle him in a group choreography that showcases his cheerful, cocky style with the rolling, circling joints of salsa dancer. The solo-group pattern is also applied to the others, with Pom Arnold angrily attacking the monkey bars, the cheerful Dietje barely containing his competitive streak – “who here has lost their hair from doing too many headspins?”

The stress on these spoken stories does beg the question whether the show really is ‘language no problem’, as they form an integral part of the show’s progression. But the pivoting moment in the show comes without words, when the all-male group with its jocular, showy energy and comradery is suddenly faced with a different flow: the refined and precise, much quieter energy of a girl. Sheyda Darab steps into the arena and immediately draws everybody’s eye with a string of clean and well-defined steps and arm movements, and a face that betrays cool control.

The one boy who is brave enough to enter into a duet with her injects the show’s movement vocabulary with a shot of genuine interest. Remses and Sheyda treat their audience to a duet that is at once acrobatic and tender, and also, in my view, a welcome rarity within hip hop with its focus on groups of either ‘brothers’ or ‘sisters’. The two deliver a break from the safety of a same sex tribe without crossing a sexual boundary – as happens in so many music videos. Spoel and her dancers deliver a strong message with this guest appearance: they show their young audience there are other ways for boys and girls to interact. More reminiscent of ballet than of a rap video in the respect for boundaries, the strength of the male physique and that of the female are celebrated and juxtaposed to come to a joint beauty that would otherwise have been missing from the show. It makes for a powerful life lesson.


Seen: September 27, MAAS TD, Rotterdam.




Photo: Guido Bosua

Concept and direction: Jolanda Spoel - dance: Pom Arnold, Kenji Hendriks, Tim Jansen, Dietrich Pott, Remses Rafaela - guest appearances: Sheyda Darab, Alicia Anais Fuentes Sifeuntes, Quinty van Selow, Lucinda Wessels - choreography: Lloyd Marengo, Jolanda Spoel and dancers, music composition: Marlon Penn - set design: Laura de Jong - costume design: Dorine van IJsseldijk - light design: Claus den Hartog - dramaturgy: Dorien Folkers - video: Steven Elbers.