Off Broadway, Dance
Theatre: Union Square Theatre
*Note: this review pertains to the September 2009 performance of Groovaloo at the Joyce Theatre. The show is now playing through January 3, 2010 at the Union Square Theatre. For tickets and show times, visit ticketmaster.com.
BOTTOM LINE: A really incredible dance show unlike anything you've seen before.
The Groovaloos are are a dance company from LA. They are hip hop dancers with diverse backgrounds who came together a while back as a community of freestyle dancers who liked to jam with one another. They are perhaps the most talented group of hip hop dancers out there, at least as far as I'm aware. You've probably seen them on TV in one way or another, as they've been featured on several of those reality talent shows over the past couple of years. Their autobiographical show, Groovaloo, has grown and changed since its inception in 2003, and it now comes to New York to play at the Joyce Theater after a successful run in LA. After it's brief stay in New York (it only plays though September 27th), Groovaloo will tour the country beginning January 10, 2010.
Performance-wise, Groovaloo is an athletic, energy packed ninety minutes that gets the audience's attention and doesn't let go. Each of the 14 dancers is better than the next and with men and women of all cultural backgrounds, the cast is totally captivating. Each dancer gets a solo moment and as the show reveals itself, the audience learns each dancer's story and how they got to where they are now. Although there are many featured moments for each dancer where they can break and freestyle and do their own thing, there are also many synchronized and choreographed moments where some or all of the dancers perform the same steps or tricks in smaller groups or as bigger production numbers. The variety keeps the production moving along at a nice pace.
The highlights of Groovaloo are pretty consistently the amazing dance moves pulled off by the cast. You may have seen someone spin on their head, but have you ever seen someone spin on their head for 10 rotations, no hands, and then go right into another cool move? Back handsprings are pretty average, but you've probably never seen someone do six in a row, in place, right into a back flip after performing several minutes of strenuous choreography. It's like gymnastics on speed, with lots of funk and rhythm. And of course, the dancing is cool too. Both the choreography and the tricks make these performances hard to believe.
Groovaloo is a heartfelt show. It's easy to see how much love these dancers have for one another, as well as for their art. They are passionate and their energy radiates through the audience. You are on their side as you witness their struggle to achieve the dreams. Toward the end, the story gets a little tragic, and then the camaraderie truly becomes palpable. After all, it's a true story about the people you are watching (well, most of them anyway, some of the original cast are no longer in the show).
For a dance show and an inspirational production, Groovaloo is a tremendous experience. As a theatrical production, it's a little obvious thematically speaking. Basically, it's A Chorus Line, except with hip hop. It's formulaic to be sure, but it's also true and sincere. For a first production, Groovaloo is a hit. I have to be honest though, I am really excited to see another show from this company, maybe something with fictional content that uses storytelling with dance in a theatrical way, something that pushes the limits of a narrative on stage. I think with the artistic vision of these performers and the storytelling potential, they could create a tremendous show. I don't believe Groovaloo is the peak for this company and I am excited to see what projects lay ahead. They certainly have the ambition and the talent to take them anywhere. But for now, do yourself a favor and check out Groovaloo. It's an incredible dance production with some of the hottest dancers around.
(Groovaloo plays at The Joyce Theater, 175 Eighth Avenue at 19th Street. Performances are through September 27th, Tuesday and Wednesday at 7:30, Thursday and Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 2pm and 8pm and Sunday at 2pm and 7:30pm. Tickets are $10-$59 and are available at joyce.org or by phone at 212.242.0800. For more show info visit groovaloo.com.)