Performers pop, lock, spin and sit at International Hip Hop DanceFest Saturday

Spinning, popping and flipping — and at times sitting — performers in the 22nd annual San Francisco International Hip Hop...

Spinning, popping and flipping — and at times sitting — performers in the 22nd annual San Francisco International Hip Hop DanceFest carried on the event’s tradition virtually Saturday.

Founded in 1999 by El Cerrito resident and dance instructor Micaya, who goes by only one name, this year’s event was livestreamed from the Commonwealth Club of California in San Francisco at noon.

Before the descent of COVID-19, the event regularly sold out over multiple days at San Francisco’s capacious Palace of Fine Arts Theatre. More than 300 people purchased tickets to Saturday’s livestream.

“Our goal is to curate top-notch movement architects who create works of art onstage,” Micaya said as the event began.

Twirling a flame-red swath of fabric that nearly spanned the stage, pulling Prince-style splits and spinning on one foot, the Loyalty Dance Team of Murfreesboro, Tennessee kicked off the performances in a video from a past DanceFest. Two soloists, Rama Hall and Nasty Ray, followed with live performances. Reflecting the innovative nature of the event, Nasty Ray incorporated a chair into his performance, spinning in the chair before spinning on one hand in a more familiar hip-hop move.

Hip-hop began on street corners and in nightclubs in the 1970s, with crews facing off in dance battles. Micaya founded the DanceFest as a non-competitive way to spotlight a wide variety of dance companies.

In a riveting challenge to preconceptions about dance and who can perform it, one performance began with the words, “My name is Kujo. … I can’t hear.” The dancer is a member of Ill-Abilities, an international dance crew comprised of differently abled dancers. The piece is titled “No excuses, no limits.” Other members of the troupe appeared in the piece as well.

“When I can’t hear the rhythm, I make my own beat,” Kujo said in a recording that played as he danced across the stage, at times scooting backward on his head, seeming to defy gravity.

The program also included the world premiere of “Isolation in Humanity,” a collaboration between five international artists commissioned by the festival showcasing b-boying, popping, krump, house, and contemporary dance.

The artists are BBoy Spaghetti of Norway, Jade Hackett of London), Sun Kim of Korea and New York, Jardy Santiago of California and Duwane Taylor of London.

Celebrities such as Alicia Garza, who is credited with co-founding the Black Lives Matter movement, and RuPaul, a longtime friend of Micaya’s, taped short videos that were interspersed with the performances.

The event concluded with a videotape of children under 14 dancing to “Just Fine, Treat ‘Em Right Remix” by Mary J. Blige.

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