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B-boy bluez

Zell Miller III makes the four corners of hip-hop come together in the theatre

Reviewed by Elizabeth Cobbe, Fri., Aug. 27, 2010

Arts Review

B-boy bluez

The Vortex, 2307 Manor Rd., 478-5282, www.vortexrep.org

Through Sept. 4

Running time: 2 hr.

B-boy bluez deserves a bigger audience. Fewer than two dozen people were there to enjoy themselves on opening night, and that doesn't seem like enough for what Zell Miller III is doing.

Miller serves as author, director, and performer for this love letter to hip-hop culture. He's talking about more than just music. Miller outlines the four components of hip-hop: the MC, the DJ, the breakdancer, and the graffiti artist. It's what all four of those represent that Miller explores in this mixture of storytelling and spoken word.

As a storyteller, Miller has already earned a great local reputation for his ability to craft a tale and deliver the warm-and-fuzzies through his autobiographical stories. The stories in B-boy bluez are hilarious and touching, especially the one about Prince and the love letter. Miller is also a talented spoken-word performer. Spoken-word poetry is a love-or-hate kind of thing; often it delivers a rapid-fire litany of leftist complaints about society and the establishment, and the solutions are typically sparse and simplistic. ("Love each other! Be kind to children!") Whether or not you like the form, however, Miller is a good performer of spoken word.

In this show, four young and talented breakdancers join him for quick numbers to transition from one story or poem to the next, with choreography from Ananda Mayia Moss. Miller also uses music from DJ S.T.A.T.I.K., rounding out the four elements of hip-hop. It's a clever way to explore the major theme of how and why hip-hop has acted as a positive force in Miller's life and, he says, the lives of a lot of other people who grew up not rich.

Yet B-boy bluez is missing something else about hip-hop culture: creating art where it doesn't belong. From the graffiti artist painting a mural on a ramshackle brick wall to the DJ etching out beats and ripping samples from old vinyl (well, before they all started cheating and using a laptop), hip-hop is also about making beauty where others have said it can't exist. It would be unfair to say that hip-hop art doesn't belong on a conventional stage (or in a gallery or a concert hall), but something is lost when there's no chance of getting busted for making art on a convenience-store wall. For example, when Miller and the dancers mime the spraying of graffiti that in actuality is already there on the back wall of the Vortex, it just doesn't have the same emotional punch as watching somebody with a can of spray paint go at it on the naked brick. It feels a little too safe.

Having said that, B-boy bluez is still worth checking out. Miller's stories are top-notch, and what he seeks to do to make the four corners of hip-hop come together meaningfully in the theatre space makes for a good show.

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