The impact of the March for Our Lives was felt across this divided country and around the world. People of all ages took time March 22 to show their support, and I couldn’t have had a better introduction to the events than going to see Love Heals All Wounds, by Lil Buck and Jon Boogz at the Rinker Playhouse in West Palm Beach.
In times of change, artists have often taken on the important role of raising awareness on issues that are plaguing society. The two creators of Love Heals All Wounds were masterful at taking on this task using their art form of street dance to address some of the serious social issues of today such as gun violence, incarceration, divisiveness as well as environmental change.
Presented as part of the innovative P.E.A.K. series at the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts, the hour-long show (which used both the spoken word and movement) stirred souls and raised consciousness at a time when it is so needed. Buck and Boogz co-founded MAI (Movement Art Is) with the mission of elevating artistic education and the social impact of dance. MAI strives to advance the spectrum that defines dance and to inspire its audience by presenting socially relevant performances, exhibitions, workshops and movement art films. Love Heals All Wounds did just that for me. It inspired me and changed my feelings. I left the theater feeling more positive about the future than I have felt in a long time.
The dance talents of Lil Buck and Jon Boogz are something else. They are both astonishing movers. Buck (Charles Riley) does jookin, a technique he learned and perfected in Memphis. It is street ballet. Buck raises up on the tips of his sneakers like a ballerina in pointe shoes – turning and then balancing magically on one leg as if caught in a puff of air. His absolute control and unbelievable fluidity defied gravity. No one should miss seeing his viral video The Swan, which he performed to the accompaniment of cellist Yo-Yo Ma.
Jon Boogz, who grew up in Florida, towered over Lil Buck. Tall and gangly, with dreadlocks reaching half way down his back, he is more of an animator/popper. Originally inspired to begin dancing by the choreography of Michael Jackson, Boogz was equally impressive. One moment he was moving his body in a rippling manner as if his bones were totally nonexistent and then in another moment he created a percussive series of sharp body shapes. The two were joined by four other amazing dancers: Nao “Ninja” Campbell, SHEstreet, Myles Yatchs, and Keviorr “Tip Toe” Taylor and by the spoken word artist, Robin Sanders.
Text was integral to Love Heals All Wounds and Sanders’ delivery of the spoken word was superb. From the repeating query of “what’s going on?” in the first monologue, her rich voice delivered powerful messages that resonated in my head long after the performance was over. The use of words not only connected the segments of dance but also added another dimension of expression to the choreography.
I usually approach viewing dance with a more right-brain mentality but with the strength and message of her words, it became more of a left-brain activity as I watched the dancers’ movement and interpretation of the different socioeconomic issues which were presented during the evening.
When Sanders recited her words, her body moved in an expressive and dancerly way, and she gave the work a feminine perspective which was unusual as street dancing is usually dominated by a masculine perspective. There was no casting or credits in the program so I don’t know who is responsible for the potent words but, if Sanders wrote them, I would repeat a line of hers and say “Girls like you inspire me.”
The ensemble does not identify with being called hip-hop dancers. They prefer to be called movement artists. The music selected for the show was quite diverse. There was everything from classical music to street music and even moments where there was none and they danced in silence. The costumes were informal but coordinated and the dances were beautifully lit, giving the whole presentation a sleek, concert dance look.
A theatrical and powerful example was the section on incarceration. First we heard the words – this is the only country in the world where there is life imprisonment for 13-year-olds – and then, we saw three men and one women standing under a line of downward shining lights slotted like prison bars. They were dressed in the bright orange of prison jumpsuits but each was totally isolated. One by one they danced a solo in their square cell of light projected on the floor reliving their lost story in movement. Another strong section was the slow-motion, off-balance duet of two dying men whose white shirts were stained, the blood making red circles where they had been shot.
The longest section was about the walls we create that divide us. A tall wall was formed with the simple yet effective use of beams of light that split the stage into two sides. The dancers started as the bricklayers who constructed the high wall and then later, they became victims separated by the wall that they had built. Words spoken pointed out society’s man-made divisions – black versus white, left versus right, man versus woman. “Build bridges, not walls” we were told.
The wall eventually came down and the piece continued, now addressing climate change. Here, in three sections which symbolized water, air and fire, the work lost some potency even though the dancers’ movement was as fascinating as ever. There was another particularly poignant part that began with a monologue by Sanders about being a woman that was followed by a solo in which SHEstreet danced with her face covered by a headscarf, later removing it.
As the evening came to an end, Sanders said “see what I am saying.” It wasn’t a question – though it could have been. It was a call. “Love is the cure” she added later. But the question was there, hanging in the air. Why do we need to be reminded that love heals all wounds? We should know: “Love is the answer.”
(Watch Lil Buck and Jon Boogz perform in their best-known collaboration, Color of Reality, a critically acclaimed movie short that they created together with visual artist Alexa Meade.