Xclusive Step Team’s show, “Step On Down The Road,” played to a joyous audience last Saturday night in Spurrier Dance Studio, in an event that also included performances from Indulgence, No Disclaimers, and M’afrisah.
The event’s title, “Step On Down The Road,” was an reference to “Ease On Down The Road,” a number from the 1978 film “The Wiz,” the black movie musical adaptation of “The Wizard of Oz.” The entire evening was structured as one big homage to the film, with Xclusive’s steps following a “Wiz”-esque narrative.
Though that narrative was present, the most engrossing parts of the show were the energetic steps choreographed by first-year Andre Hodges, junior Joy Nicholas, and sophomores Jelani Gaffney, Nahomi Pineda, Makaila Banks. It is interesting that Xclusive chose to interweave its steps with a stage-play narrative. I noticed a strong element of acting in the steps themselves. There was a sense of defiance and strength in the attitude of the performers that was as essential as the choreography.
This isn’t to say that I believe Xclusive was somehow faking it. But, like a great acting ensemble, Xclusive seemed to channel emotion and attitude into its performance.
That emotion and attitude, however, was somewhat inconsistent with the tone that the narrative segments of the show took, which was considerably lighter. Pre-recording narration and dialogue (which was mouthed as it was played back by the students playing the characters) was used to tell the story, which caused some problems. In some cases the recording simply wasn’t understandable and in others was played back at the wrong time. Perhaps Xclusive would have done better to have the performers speak the dialogue on stage. But that’s asking dancers to be actors, which isn’t fair, and asking an out-of-breath dancer to speak clear, fully audible dialogue is asking far too much from an already impressive show.
The show also included Indulgence, UR’s hip-hop dance group. In an energetic dance, it felt as though the beat was happening to them, and their movements were somehow a part of it. M’afrisah, UR’s modern and traditional African dance group, performed late in the show in a more easy-going, though no less energetic, dance than the other groups. Three spoken-word performances from No Disclaimers served as something of an interlude to the rest of the show. They took things to a deeper level, using “The Wiz” to discuss sobering issues of race in America.
This is the third step performance that I’ve ever been to, and one thing that I consistently notice is that audience participation is part of the experience. People shout praise and encouragement before, after, and during the steps. It’s to an extent where it doesn’t feel separate from the show — it’s like a piece of the performance itself. To be without it would be like watching a horror movie where the audience never screams, or a stand-up show where nobody ever laughs.
Xclusive has fostered a symbiosis — a community of mutual support between audience and performer — that becomes the show itself, resulting in an atmosphere both uplifting and intoxicating.