It was a long, long line that snaked away from USC's Bovard Auditorium as the sun was setting Wednesday night, a diverse crowd and potential full house of 1,200 waiting to get in for the premiere of The Underground: From the Streets to the Stage.
So while we waited, we talked about what we were going to see: krumping, done live and in a theater.
Krump is street dance, L.A.-born street dance, 10 years old. In the 2005 documentary movie Rize, photographer and director David LaChapelle revealed its edgy wildness to a much larger audience. Here was an angry-looking dance; its participants were proud competitors with one another. The dance was shaped by equal parts frustration and joy, the effort to overcome the hardships of South Central and the creative spirit. A few of the movie's leading dancers have since made it into the big-time of music videos and concert tours, including Underground performer Christopher “Lil' C” Toler, who is also a guest judge and choreographer on So You Think You Can Dance.
The Underground was choreographed and directed by another krumping celebrity, Marquisa “Miss Prissy” Gardner, who has formal training in ballet, tap and jazz, but ditched it for street dance. Arts journalist and USC graduate Jessica Koslow (who writes about street dance for the Weekly) fell in love with krump and pushed to produce this first fully staged, theatrical show.
Deon Lucas, who had a good spot in line with his friend Curtis Scott, said that from what he has seen of krumping, it is like a giant explosion of energy. “Actually, I never saw it as anger. I saw it as a freedom. Once you do it, you feel triumphant….It's just about the energy you give out.”
Added Scott: “Ballet is about restraint. This is almost combustible actions.”
But would krumping lose that hard, triumphant soul in putting it up onstage? Definitely not, Lex Kennedy summarized, also speaking before the show.
“It's something that's unique to this city. Bringing it to the theater allows it to reach across to people who wouldn't normally get to see it,” she said. “I feel the dancers bring the energy, or the dancers don't bring the energy. The experience is not about the theater. It's about the interaction with the dancers and the audience that dictates the experience.”
That interaction between the crowd and the 12 performers was loud, noisy and appreciative, throughout the two-hour, 12-scene show, which included a finale that depicted a regular krump circle in a North Hollywood parking lot, complete with orange safety cone props. On the other hand, there were walkouts, too, and one young woman was overheard telling her companion, “Oh, God, that was interesting, to say the least.”
Krump was made in the neighborhoods adjoining USC, so bringing it inside this theater was significant, Miss Prissy told the audience afterward. It gave krump legitimacy and its dancers respect.
“It took me a year to come up with this show,” she said. “I dreamed of one day putting all my friends onstage. I wanted to put my friends onstage so you can feel they're magnificient.”
Her next goal? To take the show on the road, to New York City, Chicago and elsewhere, and to teach street dance to inner-city children everywhere — to give them hope.
“With God's will, we can make this happen,” she says.