The name of Rhythmic Blue’s fall show is “RB’day” — a play on the title of Beyonce’s second album. And though Mrs. Jay-Z probably won’t be appearing at the Off Broadway Theater any time soon, Yale’s premier hip-hop group is inarguably at its best while channeling her presence in New Haven’s humbler version of the Garden.
The show begins with “RB (The Extended Mix),” choreographed by Vernon-James Riley ’08 to the sweet tunes of B’s “Get Me Bodied.” Twelve long-legged girls in short shorts, gold tops and high heels strut out, strike a pose and challenge the audience: Don’t mess with us. The music turns on and Rhythmic Blue is in its element: Beats pulse, lights flash, feet stamp and arms punch from one position to the next. It’s an impressive opener — Beyonce would be proud.
The wow factor of the first number sets the bar very high, which is both good and bad. Riley’s choreography distills RB style to perfection; the originality, sharpness and humor that make for unforgettable numbers all explode from the dancers’ limbs in his show-opener. But because the show-opener is a showstopper, we come to expect as much from all numbers in “RB’day.” This expectation isn’t always filled, but audience feet are consistently tapping because of an infectious beat, not out of boredom.
The RB fall show is a mix of dances that excel, dances that succeed and interludes. The third type — a few shorter solos from group members — highlights not just individual dancers but distinct talent fortes of RB. Jamilah Prince-Stewart’s ’09 “Yesterday” is memorably soulful; tension between punctuated crispness and drawn-out fluidity adds depth to the solo of an already deft dancer. Misty Wright ’08 does equally well with her lyrical, emotion-filled “Tonight I Wanna Cry.” A contrast to the feminine storms the stage with the interludes of Justin Hayase ’08 and Jeff Manley ’05. They are the tough, cool guys to the supple, elegant girls: Hayase and Manley can pop and lock like nobody’s business. In both of their numbers, bodies continuously slide from one position to the next while isolated parts jut out, snap and contract along the way.
The hottest dances arrive when RB members are out to kick the floor’s ass. It is completely electrifying to watch numbers like “BK All Day” and “Taking Over the Floor the Way We Are” — and for roughly the same reasons in both cases. Individual flaws disappear when attitude trumps all and sets the tone; with pulled-up hoods, ’90s flavoring and street-style innovation, dancers become images of cool. This coolness has a huge impact on RB’s ability to really get into it: If a dancer can look fly doing a certain move, he or she will punch it harder or push it farther to bring it to a whole new level. Degree of sharpness makes or breaks a number, and when ingenious choreography inspires dancers to be tight and precise, ass-kicking results.
Things are kept interesting for all 90 minutes of “RB’day.” Audience interaction abounds: There is a chance to learn a step or two from RB gods and goddesses in the first half, and a dance-off in the second. RB tempers their artistic and athletic talent with a wry, grinning aesthetic — they get the audience to loosen up and have fun by being so engagingly silly themselves. Manley’s all-male “Saturday Night” is pop-and-lock genius, but its highlight is unconventionality. Two of the performers change into pajamas halfway through and, near the end, someone in a priest’s robe strides on stage to wake the dancers up. It’s time for Sunday morning church, and the dancers clasp their hands in prayer position and mimic gospel-preacher gesticulations in bumping their way off stage.
The show has high points which, inevitably, come off as better executed than everything else. There are a few near-balletic pieces — girls who, instead of wearing hoodies and smirks, make use of flowing dresses and elegant extensions in numbers like “This Is Me Today” and “Hurricane.” RB should be applauded for broadening the show’s genre by including dances less street and more sleek, but it is easier to mimic hip-hop precision than it is to learn the language of ballet. As a result, all RB dancers can look good busting a move to Timberlake or Timbaland, but only a few can aim for Baryshnikov-caliber grace with any success.
Audience members walk away with a few distinct impressions after the end of “RB’day”: the choreography is creative, the dancers talented and the lighting? Phenomenal. The music choices? Witty and inspired. It is the little things that lend the show an air of professionalism; the music and the lights serve to elevate the Rhythmic Blue guys and gals to a Can’t-Touch-This level.
Rhythmic Blue is worthy of its Beyonce-esque classification because it knows what it does best and plays that up alongside a big serving of attitude also worthy of the pop diva. When RB is mimicking B, her flashiness, originality, power and pure talent becomes that of the dancers. The men and women of Rhythmic Blue, when they stick to the pop-and-lock, the drop-it-like-it’s-hot, the bring-it-to-the-floor, find an unbeatable formula: songs you think you know, but moves you can’t dream of and attitude you can’t come close to.