Almost everything that the otherworldly Brooklyn street dancer Storyboard P does defies expectations, especially if you’re expecting straight-up hip-hop.
He hails from the same ’hood as staunch rapper Jay Z, whose latest album, Magna Carta Holy Grail, the 23-year-old “covered” this weekend at the Brooklyn Museum as part of the roving young Beat Festival (until September 21). But the dancer, as elongated in limb as a Giacometti, rejects hip-hop’s reflex bravado. The intricate language he helped invent – he explained before a small, avid crowd in the museum’s airy Beaux-Arts Court – and is constantly, obsessively revising describes dreamers, poets and ghosts, not gangsters. This “mutant” idiom shows what it feels like to be young, black and pinned to the inner city, not whatever stance you take to deal with the situation.
And how does it feel? Complicated, from the looks of it. Storyboard layered Chaplinesque Moonwalking and roiling hips on to fine-grained popping and locking and the knees’ staccato twitches. The upper body possessed a stop-motion stutter while the legs slid across marble with surreal smoothness. One moment Storyboard was glowering like a cartoon villain, the next he was descending into lyrical inwardness.
As for hip-hop’s famous swagger – hard to avoid when Jay Z is rapping to a heavy beat – Storyboard struck a belligerent pose only to let it fly away. And he slung his torso so far back that it registered not as cockiness but as Gumby guilelessness. With slow-motion underwater grace, he arched to the floor, where he corkscrewed in one long cadenza of stretching legs and swivelling torso back up to his feet. There, like a live-action cubist painting, he shattered and recombined the signs for “bird”, “heart”, “tears” and “gun” that visualised the lyrics.
The show was not his very best. The proscenium setup left him and his two associates – Betty Boop-y Ivy and neo-brukup master Ghost – too isolated from the audience and too exposed. The shards of Jay Z’s already sample-heavy riffs did not allow for enough expatiation, as such ballads as “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” have done. And when the performers danced together, it mainly amounted to a muddle (the disadvantage of improvisation). But these issues weighed little against the overwhelming fact that Storyboard P was reimagining street dance before our eyes.