In every Olympics there are defining moments – performances that make such a strong statement any competitor preceding them is immediately forgotten and any who follow are watched with unavoidable skepticism. Nothing compares. Game friggin’ over.
On Sunday, Aug. 3 at the Theatre for the Performing Arts at Planet Hollywood, I watched as hip-hop crew the Philippine All Stars created just such a moment. Before a crowd of approximately 2,000, they rocked, jumped and flipped with unmatched intensity. The audience literally gasped as choreographer and crew leader Ken Jhons plucked a dancer from the ground and raised him above his head on a single arm, holding him aloft like a hunter with a prize kill, before discarding him back onto the stage. With silver-lined black vinyl trench coats flying around them, the All Stars looked like a comic book street gang, ready to throw down a dance battle at the slightest provocation. If a hip-hop crew can be intimidating, they were and then some.
It was a viciously show-stopping performance towards the end of an exhilarating night of street dance. Performing in front of an international panel of judges including Vegas’ own Natasha Jean-Bart, the original Lady Madonna in Cirque du Soleil’s Love, and America’s Best Dance Crew judge Shane Sparks, crews from 11 countries battled for the World Hip Hop Dance Championships’ bronze, silver and gold medals presented by MC Hammer himself.
Now in its seventh year, the competition is everything you’d expect from a new a competitive art form. Judges are critical but enthusiastic, dancers supportive and outgoing. During the preliminary round of international competition, younger b-girls already cut from the finals held an impromptu dance lesson off stage while dancer and choreographer Mr. Suave spoke to the crowd.
“Every single year inspires me. I go home and say, ‘How can I emulate them?’ They are ri-dic-u-lous. It’s not about who you beat, it’s about who you inspire.”
After exiting the stage, Suave greeted one of the young dancers and asked her how she was doing. Looking up from waist high with an exaggerated frown, she told him her crew hadn’t advanced to the next round.
“Did you hear what I said?” Suave asked.
“No,” she replied, “I was too busy dancing.”
The finals themselves stretched 30 crews and nearly five hours long. Tiny Japanese girls flicked traditional fans open and closed as they popped and locked in perfect coordination. Teens from New Zealand stomped through an aggressive high-energy routine. An all-male Mexican crew switched from powerful breaking to hip-swishing pantomime and back again in the span of half a minute. Canadians Xtreme Soul Style sauntered on stage like an Olympic soccer team in red and white warm up jackets before executing a performance with military precision to a machine gun beat.
But it was the Phillipine Allstars that elevated the evening with a routine based on Jhons’ thrilling choreography, work he attributes to God. “Straight up,” said Jhons pointing skyward. “We ran out of creativity; we had to pray for it.”
Standing on the uppermost step of the championship podium, flanked by the United States’ Kaba Modern in third place and 2007 champions Eklectic from Trinidad and Tobago in the silver spot, it seemed his prayers were answered. Jhons and his dancers pointed towards the sky once again. Still in the oil-slick trench coats, but now smiling out at the cheering crowd under the red, white, blue and gold of the Filipino flag, the crew looked like less like a hip hop army and more like Olympic victors. The audience, the judges, even their fellow competitors chanted together, “all-stars, all stars.” Nothing had compared to their performance. Game friggin’ over.