Raphael Xavier performs “Point of Interest” at The Clarice

Photo Courtesy of Sarah Snyder
Photo Courtesy of Sarah Snyder

Forty-five-year-old professional break-dancer Raphael Xavier performed his show “Point of Interest” at the dance theatre in The Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center last Thursday and Friday nights.

Xavier’s “Point of Interest” aims to challenge the ordinary perspective that breaking is only associated with urban youths. He has been dancing for 32 years and is based in Philadelphia.

Xavier and his four protégés (Jerry Valme, Joshua Culbreath, Christopher LaPlante and Raymond Trinh) danced a total of seven pieces. Xavier choreographed six of the pieces and his dancers worked with him to choreograph the third act in the show.

Xavier has a prominent reputation in the dance community as a 2013 recipient of the Pew Fellowship and a 2016 recipient of the Guggenheim Fellowship.

Senior Stephanie Austin said she attended the performance because she “heard really, really good things about [Xavier] from [her] dance professors.”

The dance and psychology major said when she started dancing with hip-hop, so she was familiar with the dance form and said that what Xavier does with hip-hop and breakdancing is very different from traditional performances.

“I’m the only person using breaking as a narrative on stage” professionally, Xavier said. He said it all started when he was asked to performed in a “hip-hop version of Romeo and Juliet,” which he thought was strange at the time but caused him to changed his perspective on traditional breaking.

Xavier said what he likes about choreographing his pieces is taking it “apart, to decipher, decode, and put it together again in various ways.”

The show was in a chronological timeline of the history of breaking. It started off with a cypher, where the dancers created a circle and each person took turns b-boying in the middle. Then they broke out of the cypher, which was traditionally used to establish dominance in dancing skills, and started to dance in perfect synchronization.

The second piece, “Difficulties,” was the only part of the show where Xavier performed alone in the spotlight. The dancers walked in a synchronized form around the stage then stood in downstage left while Xavier was breaking in the middle of the stage.

The breaking involved a lot of tricks such as head spins, air flares and windmills, yet the dancers wore slacks and button-down shirts. In the later pieces, they changed into t-shirts and sweatpants – traditional breaking clothes. As the pieces went in sequential order, their fashion was reverse.

“Still” was the show’s fifth piece, and the one that got the most reaction from the audience. Xavier and one of his dancers, Valme mirrored each other as Xavier’s poetry played in the background, “time seems to rob you of your youth,” he narrated.

“Jerry [represented] my younger self,” Xavier said, “that says don’t give in to my ego, just be you.”

Xavier said break dancing was a movement started by youths and seems to end with them, so when younger people who aren’t familiar with his work look at him and says ‘Oh he can’t do what we do because he’s old,’ he feels like he has to prove to them that he can.

“[Still] shows a struggle between myself and I,” he said.

Though Valme, 26, who holds Xavier in high regards said about not only about “Still,” but dancing that, “I’m just trying to keep up with Raph.”

Sophomore Angad Kalsi, who attended the show and one of Xavier’s ground-core movement classes said he likes “how [Xavier] is not confining himself, how he’s as broad and fusion as he can go [in the dance scene].”

The biology and dance major said one of his favorite parts of the show was the “silence section,” where a song would cut off for a couple of minutes and Xavier and the dancers performed in silence then the same song would play when it started back up, “it was intriguing to see them at their deepest moment,” he said.

This was Xavier’s decision, Valme said, he wanted to “give us real intimate moments… so that the audience could hear everything, from the scrapes of the floor when we dance, to our feet shuffling… then when the music picks back up again, everything would make more sense [to the audience] and click.”

In the future Xavier said he hopes his work opens doors for dancers who want to do the same since “there is no one I can look at and compare my work to.”

Xavier also held a ground-core movement class Saturday morning at The Clarice that was free and open to the public.

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