Talking about Hip-hop, B-boys, or street dancing in Hong Kong, one might only have a negative impression of youngsters straying on the street at night, messing around… at least this was the image of B-boys to many local people before the huge success of the movie The Way We Dance in 2013. As the director of the movie, Adam Wong, shared in a talk earlier in September, local B-boys and B-girls were always getting kicked out of almost everywhere they tried practicing their dance moves. But it was not until the movie gained popularity, that some popular practicing areas in town banned breakers. Although more people understand and welcome breakdancing now, Hong Kong people still have a long way to go to totally understand and accept the culture of B-boys and B-girls.
In this year’s World Cultures Festival, audiences were delighted that a top Korean B-boys group, Jinjo Crew, was invited to town, and presented not only two evenings of world-class street dancing spectacular, but also battled with a group of local B-Boys and B-girls, rocking up the local street dance community and amazing audiences.
Established in 2001 by brothers Skim and Wing in Seoul, Jinjo Crew is the first B-boys group to have won five major international street dance competitions including Red Bull BC One, Battle of the Year, Freestyle Session, UK B-boy Championship, and R-16 Korea World Final, which they have won three times in a row. Even though I am no expert in B-boying, seeing the titles Jinjo had won, it was hard to not expect extraordinary performances on stage from these Korean B-boys. And after watching the one-hour long Ablaze, the program they brought to the stage of the Auditorium at the Ko Shan Theatre New Wing, even though I had high expectations, I wasn’t the least bit disappointed. I was truly amazed. I can very much understand why they were favored in those competitions and have won so many hearts of dance fans around the globe.
Jinjo means rising(Jin) fire(Jo) in Korean, and they use the title Ablaze as the overall name for their stage show, vividly giving both a vibrant and energetic impression, and a force to conquer. The production starts with video showing footage of Jinjo Crew in competitions and on tour in different parts of the world – it acts as a teaser for what’s to come as well as an introduction to this world-renowned B-boys team.
However, Jinjo Crew does not follow the introductory video by burning up the floor with fast and furious moves right away instead, pieces derived with traditional Korean cultural elements come first. In The White-clad Folk, B-boys in white clothes dance with extended long sleeves, combining some traditional dance moves with basic breaking steps; while in Banghwang, crew members show off their fantastic freeze and flare techniques to the Lee Kyung-sup composed Banghwang (wandering). And in the third work TAL, B-boys in traditional Korean masks (tal) present a softer work with traditional Korean music. These three pieces try mixing traditional Korean culture with B-boying from the West. Although I appreciated the intention, I felt the energy level was generally low. I am not sure whether it was because it was just the beginning of their first show in Hong Kong or because this hybrid form itself is not uplifting enough.
Nevertheless, the atmosphere heated up when Jinjo Crew presented their award-winning TA as the fourth dance of the night. This R-16 Korea World Final 2012 winning piece, shows not only impressive skills by individuals, but also nice duo and group moves with non-stop jumping and rolling, which display intense cooperation among group members. Even though the piece also uses Korean traditional music composed by Lee Kyung-sup, the dancers are more spirited than in the previous works, and the well-choreographed ensemble moves are equally remarkable, clearly demonstrating why Jinjo Crew beat their counterparts at dance competitions.
Besides TA, Jinjo Crew also performed Invader, which is the champion piece of the Performance Division of R-16 Korea World Final 2011. Using an edited mix of the classic dance beat song The Invaders Must Die composed by the legendary The Prodigy, Invader is a total feast of power moves. Members of Jinjo Crew display precise spins, moves, and freezes, as well as show extraordinary turtle hand spins and head spins that perfectly match the dynamic dance beats. They even add a magical trick with jackets on stage: tie up sleeves of three jackets to form a ring with well-calculated synchronized movements, and let the fourth person jump through it.
During the performance, they also introduce one of the Korea’s best beatboxers, 2Tak, to showcase his fantastic skills in making sound with his mouth, as well as interacting with the B-boys through beatboxing. Although 2Tak is not the regular beatbox master of the Jinjo Crew, his performance is still phenomenal, a part where he makes five different sounds simultaneously is truly astonishing.
A few from the audience were invited to go on stage in the middle of Ablaze, to learn a simple yet interesting routine from Jinjo Crew members. Four out of five of audience members who went on stage on the evening I watched were little kids and it became a little bit out of control when one of the little boys didn’t follow what was going on. Nevertheless, such an interactive section between the group and the audience was still well received.
The show concludes with a freesytle section where every crew member gets a chance to showcase his own spectacular moves for the audience. Although only nine of the fourteen B-boys members from the Jinjo Crew performed in Hong Kong, and only one of the choreographic brothers, Skim, came, these dancers astonished the local audiences with their innovative and skillful moves throughout the program. Besides crew leader Skim, the versatile Octopus and Kazino with long limbs always caught my eye. Octopus has a very relaxed attitude and always wears a smile, and he can do complicated moves with ease; while Kazino’s flares and elbow spins are impressive, and his hand glide with backhand is particularly outstanding.
Apart from the two performances at the Auditorium of Ko Shan Theatre New Wing, Jinjo Crew also battled with local B-boys and B-girls in an outdoor performance at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre Piazza C on 7 November. Generally speaking, the technique demonstrated by the local 852 Crew is not that much inferior to those of the Korean champions, some individuals really showed great skills in doing power moves including windmills, spins, flares, and freezes, but that is all.
During the 20-minute friendly battle, one can see blistering skills from both sides, but it is obvious that the dancers from Hong Kong generally lack creativity. While Jinjo Crew members perform a lot of variations from just a simple spin, local B-boys and B-girls kept repeating standard flare to spin routines. Certainly it is unfair to compare Hong Kong ‘amateur’ breakers with the international champion B-boys, but the experience can probably give local dancers ideas about ways to improve.
B-boying has its roots in the West, but Seoul has developed into a hip-hop powerhouse and its dance crews have been winning awards across the globe in the past ten years. One of the major reasons for this is the great support from the Korean Government. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Korea and the Korea Tourism Organization give continuous support to Jinjo Crew as a national ambassador when they are touring aboard. While in Hong Kong, we still have no organized B-boys and/or B-girls crews who can keep training as professionals. Without support, it is almost impossible to grow local breaking stars. I sincerely hope inviting world-class B-boys to town is only the first step, more emphasis in nurturing local street-dancing artists has to be the next.
is a Hong Kong base performing arts critic, theatre director and a media producer. He has recently completed his double MA in International Performance Research at the University of Warwick (UK) and University of Arts in Belgrade (Serbia), and currently working as the Project Manager at the International Association of Theatre Critics (Hong Kong).
Date: Friday, 6 November 2015
Venue: Ko Shan Theatre New Wing Auditorium
Battle with Local B-Boys
Date: Saturday, 7 November 2015
Venue: Hong Kong Cultural Centre Piazza C
Photo provider: Festivals Office, LCSD