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Versa-Style Dance Company gifts audience with Box of Hope

by Jessica Abrams
September 21, 2016
Ford Amphitheatre
2580 Cahuenga Blvd. East
Los Angeles, CA 90068
323-461-3673
Like popular music or sci-fi television shows, dance companies tend to attract their own brand of followers, and oftentimes a few glances around an auditorium can illuminate the style of dance about to appear on stage. But as people scrambled for seats in Hollywood's John Anson Ford Theatre Saturday, September 17 to see Versa-Style Dance Company perform the evening-length Box of Hope, the crowd was electric in its eclecticism. B-Boys in trucker hats mingled with white-haired men in suits, and Latino families shared rows with long-limbed dancer-types. Indeed, the term "versa-style" is an interesting take on the word "versatile", which is defined as "capable of doing many things differently" and "versa" is linked to "vice versa"—"in reverse order from the way it has been stated"; but neither of those fully described the explosion of energy, artistry and sheer joy that was about to light up the stage.

Versa-Style Dance Company is the brainchild of Jackie "Miss Funk" Lopez and Leigh "Breeze Lee" Foaad. Both native Angelinos, Lopez and Foaad founded the company in 2005 as a way to provide an artistic outlet not only for the varieties of hip-hop dance they grew up with, but also for the young people in their former neighborhoods. In addition to making dances and touring, the company offers a unique outreach program to specific communities in Los Angeles that might otherwise not be exposed the arts, much less dance, providing classes and a chance for K-12 students to work their way into performing with the company.

The program opened with an ensemble number straight out of a Michael Kidd musical, if Michael Kidd had incorporated hip-hop into "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers." What made Versa-Style's choreography stand out from the basic jazz idiom however, was that hip-hop formed the basis of all the dances as opposed to being a stylistic flourish. Indeed, the second number, with its Caribbean feel - as occasional salsa footwork mingled with upper-body undulation typical of Caribbean dance - always came back to the hip-hop vernacular with its popping, breaking, and yes, moon- walking.

The first number exhibited the talents of the entire company, including some of the younger students that Lopez and Foaad are focused on nurturing. Later, the numbers were more pared down, with Lopez and Foaad often taking center stage. Both were showstoppers: Lopez, with her easy movement, dazzling stage presence and atypical dancer's body earning cries of "Jackie!" every time she took the stage, and Fooad with his serpentine-like elegance and Fred Astaire-like charisma creating a sensation in his own right. Indeed, with its intricate footwork and syncopated rhythms, not to mention high-energy ensemble numbers that always seemed to erupt just when things were getting a little too serious, the parallel between hip-hop and tap was made plain to see.

Every dancer had his or her own unique style that the audience appeared captivated by vocalizing approval when various dancers performed solos. Jackie Oka's elastic upper body combined lyricism with power that made her a visual magnet on stage and Anthony Berry's stage presence was hard to ignore in his riveting solos.

Owning to the program's title several numbers into it the dancers shared the stage with cardboard boxes of varying sizes. At times the boxes seemed to take on allegorical meanings—the explosive dance that ensued after one male dancer took his box's lid off evoked Pandora and at times the boxes were dance partners, adding an element of lyricism that never strayed far from the dynamism of the company's hip-hop roots. In the end, if one deigns to endow this lavish display of energy with a deeper meaning, one might say the boxes offered little pieces of possibility. And with its positive energy, strong role models and focus on the future, Versa-Style Dance certainly offers plenty of that to go around.
Versa-Style Dance Company<br>in 'Box of Hope.'

Versa-Style Dance Company
in "Box of Hope."

Photo © & courtesy of George Simian


Versa-Style Dance Company<br>in 'Box of Hope.'

Versa-Style Dance Company
in "Box of Hope."

Photo © & courtesy of George Simian


Versa-Style Dance Company<br>in 'Box of Hope.'

Versa-Style Dance Company
in "Box of Hope."

Photo © & courtesy of George Simian


Versa-Style Dance Company<br>in 'Box of Hope.'

Versa-Style Dance Company
in "Box of Hope."

Photo © & courtesy of George Simian


Versa-Style Dance Company<br>in 'Box of Hope.'

Versa-Style Dance Company
in "Box of Hope."

Photo © & courtesy of George Simian


Versa-Style Dance Company<br>in 'Box of Hope.'

Versa-Style Dance Company
in "Box of Hope."

Photo © & courtesy of George Simian

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