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"Mixtape IV: Now Streaming" questions the status quo with street dance

Herb Johnson III's krump piece is raw, cathartic, and just one part of the street dance collective's latest show.

The 2020 Mixtape collective. Photo by Bill Cameron.

The 2020 Mixtape collective. Photo by Bill Cameron.

"You don't know me." "Enough is enough." "Nothing you can do." "It's not your fault." "Proud of me." "Real as it gets." These are just some of the phrases that sparked Herb (JDot Tight Eyex) Johnson III's krump dance film, "In This Time," one part of "Mixtape IV: Now Streaming." Through these vignettes, Johnson and his four dancers stitch together their reactions to 2020's racial injustices in movements that start in their souls and surge through the rest of their body.

"Now Streaming" takes place as a livestream Feb. 26 and 27 with filmed dance pieces, live performances, a chat room with the artists and creative team, and giveaways. Street dance collective Mixtape usually has an annual show at the Cowles Center for Dance and the Performing Arts, but now Johnson, artistic director Jason (J-Sun) Noer, Darrius Strong, Averie Mitchell-Brown, and Andy Asong-Morfaw are bringing their dances straight to you.

"We hope that the videos give people this immersed sense, a sense of dance that you don't get when they're in the theater because you're 50 feet away," says virtual director V. Paul Virtucio. (Virtucio also talked about having to duck and weave under dancers' arms with his video camera, so I believe him about the up-close perspective.) "And so [with] the live stuff, you have that sense of risk, of watching something real. ... There's the shaking of hands of the polished video and the risky live."

Authentic, not performative moments

Herb Johnson III, aka JDot Tight Eyex
Photo by Juiceedope.

Johnson, a McKnight Fellow and Jerome Hill artist, has been a part of Mixtape since its first performance in 2017, but this year, the filmed aspect allowed him to work with Virtucio and musical director Stefon (Bionik) Taylor to push his ideas even further.

Because Johnson's piece is largely improvisational, his storyboarding process with Virtucio was less meticulous than, say, Virtucio's discussion with Noer, whose dance included a large shot list to get the angles, close ups, and narrative pace just right.

Johnson's choreography had a shot list, but it was more about locations. Each improvisational segment had about two takes before they moved on to keep the dance authentic. Those key phrases that the group came up with—a traditional way to create krump dances—would drive their performance, not aesthetics or showmanship.

"The essence of all street styles is through expression, and I think expression is

different than being performative because expression is coming from emotions," Johnson says. Compared with ballet's reputation for telling stories, he says, "Street style is very capable of doing that, but it's done in a different way sometimes that's not understood because the moves don't come out super technical all the time—because they're driven through emotion, a lot of raw movement and venting. Some things not coming across extremely clean or technical; it's very raw or grimy."

Filming gave Johnson and Taylor a chance to put the emotional crux of the dances at the forefront. Typically, Johnson keeps the music in mind as he choreographs, but for "In This Time"'s improvised numbers, he kept it limitless by having Taylor make the score after filming was complete. On site, dancers would krump to background music that was there for the tempo, and then Taylor used his own interpretations and discussions with Johnson to create the score.

In addition to Taylor's original compositions, Johnson also uses two songs, the first an almost gospel-style track by Dizzy Wright and the second a krump song by fellow dancer Joker.

Art that gives to both the dancers and the audience

Taylor composed the most for Mixtape he ever has this year, and similarly, the collective's mentorship program expanded to include not just upcoming choreographers but video producers and composers. To make sure the collective could support its artists, not take from them during the pandemic, Noer worked to secure more funding from New Music USA, Red Bull, the Cowles, and Springboard for the Arts.

Despite the logistics and production effort, once the Mixtape team started brainstorming, they knew the show would be worth it. "It was important to show the Twin Cities hip hop and street dance scene how to thrive during COVID-19 and the uprising in the wake of George Floyd's murder. Artists, especially those that rely on live performances for income, were struggling everywhere," Noer says. "We believe the content of the work in 'Mixtape IV' engages with these issues, and always has as these are ongoing problems."

While "Now Streaming" brings the audience outside with some of its dances, other performances still take place on a theatrical stage. Back in 2014 or 2015, Johnson may have used the setting as a cue and tweaked the choreography to match. Now, he keeps the choreography style rooted in the dance community.

"In This Time" isn't about mass appeal or tailoring it to the audience. It's about supporting the dance community while sharing their voices and experiences. Johnson says, "I just wanted to do it for us, and create for us, and just allow viewers to be able to see what we created for us."

See it and the other Mixtape pieces by watching the livestream this weekend through the Cowles Center.


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