By Jacqueline Monahan
JabbawocKeez Land at MGM Grand
They must land because they are so frequently airborne and they don’t need a plane to fly. A stage will do quite nicely.
The seven-man ensemble known as The JabbawocKeez (first season winners of Randy Jackson’s reality competition America's Best Dance Crew) debuted their high energy show at the 740-seat Hollywood Theatre in the MGM Grand on May 7th. There wasn’t an available seat left inside the packed house as the adoring crowd cheered enough to be heard above the pulsating beat of music, both house and hits. The group will perform a 20-day stint at the venue ending on May 26th.
The show is called "MÜS.I.C" but is pronounced “Muse, I See” which the group describes as "the audio-visual story of inspiration brought to life through the harmonization of sound and movement."
Celebrities on hand were recording artist Sean Paul, TV personality Wayne Brady, DeMarcus Ware of the Dallas Cowboys and Jerome Williams of the New York Knicks. Other celebrities included DJ Franzen, DJ Loczi, Boogaloo Shirmp, and Survivor winners and all-stars Richard Hatch, Tom Westman, Ethan Zohn, Jenna Morasca, Stephenie LaGross, and Big Tom Buchanan, who came for the show, pre-party at TABU Ultra-Lounge, and after-party at Studio 54.
The Southern California natives reach out to the audience through interaction and movement that starts before the actual 90-minute show begins. A lone figure dressed in khaki, and sometimes carrying a broom makes his way through the audience, waving, making laser-like eye contact and gestures that amuse and enchant - picking a dance partner here or thrilling a child fan there.
Known for wearing white Kabuki-like masks (gloves and hats as well) the crew presents itself as a coordinated unit so audiences can focus on their movements as a group instead of on individual dancers. And those movements are as precise and synchronized as a Swiss watch.
With a name derived from the 1872 Lewis Carroll poem "Jabberwocky," (written in nonsense verse), the group pays homage to that fact in a dream sequence segment of the show in which they jump, slide, perform gymnastics and break-dance in seamless unison or impressive solo efforts. In fac,t the group gives props to all of its influences, from Michael Jackson to Elvis to Blue Man Group, during the course of the show. They acknowledge that they are an eclectic bunch of performers.
Musically, segments of Queen, Kanye West, James Brown, DJ Shadow, and Coldplay compositions share the stage with the dancers, who utilize props such as light bulbs, a ladder, scaffolding, a guitar, and the omnipresent broom to bring storylines to life. One magic sequence has the group float a red orb in their midst without any visible means of support.
There are times when an unsuspecting man and woman are pulled onstage. During this performance, the man had his stick-figure image drawn by one of the group. The woman sat on a high stool while “Kiss the Girl” played (from Disney’s The Little Mermaid). Who’s to say these genders won’t be reversed in future performances? Jabberwocky is a nonsense poem, after all.
Their black Kangol-type hats, which fasten under the chin (they had to, or risk being airborne themselves), gave the group a look that alternately resembled army helmets and hip-hop Gilligans. The preferred wardrobe was a red bling-y running suit. Musical beats, especially those with a heavy bass, took the place of heartbeats and the seated audience frequently moved as much as their chairs would allow.
Certain segments of the show contained film narration (Matrix, In & Out), but you’ll never hear a word from any of the crew - ironic, since “jabba” is in their name. They allow their gestures do the talking, cheering, and screaming for them.
There are from one to eleven dancers onstage at any time (four are called the SuperCr3w and can change by tour) and some costume changes. One has the crew dressed as gray ninjas, stealing red hearts away from one another. Another has them clad all in black, with a lighted blue-bulb sash across their chests. No matter what they wear, you won’t be able to take your eyes off of them, or the giant 12-foot white mask that was a backdrop for much of the show.
Music, storytelling, movement, speed and stillness all have a place in the show.
The crew flips, spins and gyrates. They create towers out of their bodies and fall gracefully into a tumble of activity. They are comedic; they are pensive. Smoke and darkness have their place on stage, but so do bright lights and joyous street dance sequences. Video screens let the dancers sway in synchronized beat with images that dance along with them.
In a sequence called “Hits and Misses’ the crew explore some old and new classics like Gene Kelly’s Singin’ in the Rain, Vanilla Ice’s Ice Ice Baby, New Kids on the Block’s The Right Stuff, Bell Biv Devoe’s Poison, and Sir Mix-a-Lot’s Baby Got Back. They leave it up to the audience to decide what the hits are.
As you’d expect with so much continual exertion, the JabbawocKeez are a slender bunch, all fluid gaits and limber lunges. It’s almost as if the audience was being gathered up into the action, cradled at times, rocked and bounced with the beat at others.
The guys walk up to the edge of the stage at the end of the show, and that’s the best shot you’ll have of seeing them upright and stationary. Rest assured it won’t last long.
About The JabbawocKeez:
Right from the beginning they were memorable by design. All of the JabbawocKeez' performances on America's Best Dance Crew began in the same formation in which the previous week's performance had ended. That’s the kind of smart strategy that kept them in viewers’ consciousness even if they didn’t quite know the reason why.
Since then, they’ve appeared in music videos and commercials, have toured internationally, and have performed with Shaquille O'Neal at the 2009 NBA All-Star Game.
The JabbawocKeez are Ben "B-Tek" Chung, Rynan "Kid Rainen" Paguio, Kevin "Keibee" Brewer, Chris "Cristyle" Gatdula, Phil "Swaggerboy/SB" Tayag, Jeff "Phi" Nguyen, and Joe "Emajoenation/Punkee" Larot. The crew’s ethnicity is Filipino (4), African-American (1) and Vietnamese (1).
The Crew Unmasked
When they aren’t steppin’ to Top 40 hits, The JabbawocKeez gyrate, flip and slide to original music by the Bangerz, six DJs who complement each other's individual strengths and styles. The story as told by DJ Cutso: "We unknowingly made a dance album (VI.R.US) that choreographers were using. I was watching YouTube one day and saw the JabbawocKeez doing a routine to one of our songs! They moved to every click and pop in the music.”
Just try to watch them without moving yourself.
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