The opening of locust’s crushed Monday evening at the WORKS for PICA’s TBA:09 Festival featured a video of a hopping locust crushed beneath the boot of a man…followed by two dancers on the floor jerking back and forth like…crushed locusts? This is the only movement in the piece that strays from the main movement vocabulary of a kind of show-hop, the equivalent of hip-hop with jazz hands, hip-hop as filtered through Paula Abdul and/or countless high school dance squads. It’s entertaining, energetic dance, often executed in unison. Danced ably by bodies that knew ballet before breakbeats, it’s less surprising than you’d think that the choreography includes petit battement downstairs while upstairs you might see the one-arm, crank-it-up-and-down or the Morris Day double-arm squawk.
Zeke Keeble does some fine beat-boxing, and choreographer Amy O’Neal clearly has an affinity for hip-hop, which is why segments like the dance-off that devolves into faux violence—one part Soul Train Line, one part West Side Story dance fight—are so troubling. Witness a contemporary b-boy "battle," and there is good-natured posturing around the pit where the dancers throw down. The dancers are aware, as we are, that this posturing is a watered-down, play-acting version of the kind of violence that hip-hop has tried to replace with words (whether the braggadocio coming out of the dozens of Run-DMC or LL Cool J to didacticism of KRS-One or Chuck D) and dance: from the b-boying that lives on to crumping today (if you haven’t seen the film Rize, do it). In appropriating what was originally an urban black dance form and having the "battle" devolve into pantomimed violence (repeatedly), locust embarrassingly plays into common stereotypes of violent urban youth and comes off not only dissing a form they clearly appreciate, but the community it springs from as well.