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March 17, 2008

Planet B-Boy

Gettin’ Jiggy Wid It 

International B-Boy Battle Buzzes Onscreen
By Cole Smithey

Bboy The mid ‘80s urban dance form of breakdancing is alive and well in director Benson Lee’s joyful celebration of the ingenuity and energy expressed by international "B-boy" dance crews competing in Braunschweig, Germany at the 2005 "Battle of the Year." The director sketches the essential elements of early hip-hop rebel culture—consisting of graffiti, DJ spinning, and the dance moves that sprung up in South Bronx streets during the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. Clips from influential breakdance movies like "Flashdance" and "Breakin’" show Hollywood’s calculation of the underground dance movement that inspired young audiences to take up hip-hop dance. For the typically impoverished boys from all corners of the globe, performing their outrageous choreographies in front of 10,000 fans at the Battle of the Year is more than a competition; it is a statement of individual character and national identity.

In France, a dancer who calls himself "Crazy Monkey" does head-and-shoulder windmill spins on the floor that are mind-blowing. He levitates upside-down like a spinning top. Crazy Monkey’s gymnastic athleticism also enables his tall frame to flip in mid-air like a life-size cartoon character. Beside Crazy Monkey is a 12-year-old white kid who clearly knows how to "pop and lock" as a way of confronting his parents’ self-admitted racism with an in-your-face approach. Known for their strong sense of nuance and style, the French dance crew exhibit polished dance skills that illustrate why they are among the top five teams competing for the title of World’s Best B-boy Crew.

In Las Vegas, a crew of comparatively spoiled hip-hoppers call themselves "Knucklehead Zoo." They practice a theatrically stagy brand of breakdancing that comes with a Vegas-approved slathering of left-over Vaudville cheese.

The film’s astonishing displays of physically demanding dance moves become evermore compelling as it compares the raw power of the South Korean "Gamblerz" team against their rival squad "Last for One." Dancers make human pyramids, dance atop one another, and use the floor as a trampoline. Their energetic displays are explosive yet controlled, and tempered with humor. Politics rears its ugly head as one dancer explains South Korea's policy of a compulsory two-year military service that will end his dance career once the event in Germany is over. Glimpses like these into the cultural realities of the dancers' personal lives gives the movie a heart and soul beyond the flash and spectacle of the film’s cliched contest-climax format.

However, the unavoidable strength of "Planet B-Boy" comes from B-boy booster Thomas Hergenröther who created and organized the not-for-profit "Battle of the Year" (called BOTY) in Hannover, Germany in 1990. Without Hergenröther’s global vision, it’s entirely possible that the art of hip-hop battle dancing might have all but vanished by now. Hergenröther presides over the battle of the culturally diverse festivities with an egalitarian passion for the hard work that goes into each of the teams’ performances. He admires the cultural differences that bring contrast to the dances.

Dance is an ever-changing art form that has been enriched by the liberating efforts of B-boy dancers who stamp their personalities on every hand gesture and stomp they crush into the ground. "Planet B-Boy" takes a step toward bringing together foreign communities by sharing a communal model of freedom of expression--the freedom of movement.

Not Rated. 95 mins. (B) (Three Stars)

 

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