Creating a bold new voice for hip hop, Bruno Beltrão, artistic director of Grupo de Rua, transforms street dancing into a classical piece of dance theater that reflects a dancer’s everyday life in Brazil.
“H3,” Beltrão’s latest piece in a series of hip hop explorations, begins on the street. The opening soundtrack is composed of silence, wind and passing cars. The first two male dancers begin a brewing duet, mixing a slow contemporary expression with sharp gestures of their lifelong hip hop dancing style. As the pair is slowly joined by the remaining seven members of the company, the audience is introduced to the roots and reality of hip hop’s history and meaning to the dancers.
This first opening number, performed solely to the background noises of the streets from which hip hop was born, shows viewers the heart of hip hop. Beltrão introduces his work by exposing the soul of his dance form, setting the base for a new form of expression.
Seeing the need to produce hip hop in a style that was more accessible and understandable, Beltrão veered from the use of spoken word or dialogue that was injected into previous works. Using the dancers’ bodies alone, he successfully tells their story in a touching and beautiful way.
“We can tell the whole story just with gesture,” Beltrão said.
Beltrão said that “H3” is a work that seeks to challenge stereotypes of hip hop, displaying its full artistic potential and creating new perspectives. One of the ways in which this is accomplished is with a brilliant change in the sounds surrounding the dancers’ movement.
“All this noise that hip hop produces can be really alienating,” Beltrão said. “We were aware from the beginning that we would have to work with the sound.”
As “H3” continues, we get a sense of these gestures building up on each other and growing alongside the changing music. As the score — composed specifically for “H3” — slowly adds drum beats and later delves into mechanical sounds and lyrical beeps, the dancers gracefully move with the ebb and flow of this natural rhythm of life. They gently act out the slow moments of the day with drawn out modern dance techniques and quickly switch to the faster tricks and turns of their hip hop traditions.
Within the reenactment of life’s pulse in “H3,” Beltrão highlights certain gestures that quite honestly capture daily experience. The repeated image of dancers coming together and clashing apart, moving backward, looking at the sky and rolling create a trancelike use of the stage that reflects the history, feeling and future of a unique and lesser-known art form. With “H3,” Bruno Beltrão creates a new mode of movement that goes above hip hop and contemporary dance and soars to gorgeous heights.
“We are trying to do hip hop,” Beltrão said. “But we are trying to take hip hop where it has never been before.”