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Art, Culture

Spazzy Form

by Jed Coventry, images by Kevin Goss-Ross / 01.10.2010

I meet Preston “Kayzo” Kyd at the Lifecheck All Elements Battle of the Year – an annual hip hop competition at the Bat Centre in Durban. Battles happen in each major element of hip-hop, including your MC’ing, graphing, krumping and producing. Preston told me not miss his crew, the Floor Assassins, in the break battle.

The crowd bounced to the beat. Totally like that scene in 8-Mile. I hoped Preston wouldn’t “choke”. Turns out I needn’t have worried. The Floor Assassins brought the wow. Power moves and solid floor work. Vertical moves and showmanship. A flair for the dramatic. Crew boy Miz busts from a flat spin into the pushup position and starts humping the ground. Then reaches into his pants to produce a used condom which he tosses into the recoiling crowd! Nut busted.

The Floor Assassins rule. They take all the top spots in the competition. As they do wherever they go.
Later at the victory house party, we stand on a balcony overlooking Durban where Craig “Miz” Katt turns to me, with playful arrogance, and says, “You should feel privileged to be at this party. These are the top dancers in the city right here.” He points out his boyz: Kayzo, Bizzo, and Wooda.

They recently toured Empangeni and Kwa-Mashu. “That tour was about going to places where hip-hop is big, but nothing’s happening. There are no hip hop artists, MC’s or events out there.”

They run B-boy classes teaching wannabe breakers the first basic steps. The Crew is passionate about keeping the breaking scene in Durban alive. “It’s something you have to really work hard at,” Preston says, “but that’s what makes it worth it.”

Upcoming B-boys work through ranks and are eventually inducted into the fold, like newest member Wooda who takes me off guard by his soft spoken ideas about keeping the flame of Durban’s B-boying scene burning. The crew have been together longer than any in Durban. They’re the best because they work on their skills year round. But they admit it’s a small pond, and Cape Town is where the real competition lies. “We go to Joburg and Cape Town as often as we can, even if it’s just to show them that there is something happening in Durban.“

Floor Assassins

Durban’s really a krumping city. A spazzy form. When I ask Kyd if he’s tried other styles of dance, he’s all, “nah only breakdance”. He got kicked out of ballet class.

We’re standing, the Crew and I, days later, in the parking lot of UKZN’s annual Dodgeball party. Drunk as fuck. Much Swazi in the air. I’m surprised to learn they’ve made the transition from street exhibition breaking to the highbrow suit and tie world of contemporary dance. They have a slot in the annual Jomba dance festival.

It’s Step Up basically. A fish-out-of-water story. Take sample group of hard, shit-spouting B-boys. Add classical dance company, respected and strictly professional. And watch the fur fly until they discover how much they have in common. Shared dreams. Hugs all round.
“I was nervous at first,” says Preston. “Mixing different styles. It was my first time doing contemporary dance on stage.” Turned out great though.
A Contre Sud (a Clash of the South) featured Bizzo, the Assassins’ most powerful breaker. There was a brilliant clash of styles: the pantsula moves, the confrontational heat of breaking, and the homoeroticism of ballet! I was wildly entertained. The show will tour elsewhere in Southern Africa before moving on to France.

The second show Still Untitled was conjured in only three weeks using Dutch choreographer Daniel Renner’s “Roundcorner” technique, drawing strongly from the dancers themselves for inspiration. The arty pretensions of contemporary dance were more apparent. An abrasive, dissonant soundtrack and little coherent narrative – less concerned with pleasing the audience, more intent on challenging them. Some of the audience whooped as bodies flew through the air, performing breakneck contortions, while others policed the darkened auditorium with hushes and shushes.
Preston’s popularity was obvious. Recurring calls of “Go Preston!” He admits later its tough to keep a straight face when, while frozen in a demanding pose, an awed voice whispers in hushed tones, “Yoh, he’s so strong!”

The performance showcased the fertile possibilities of crossover between styles and the commonalities between fluid forms. Bizzo, Kayzo and Miz embody the tension between popular street culture and funded institutionalized art forms. But they reached out. They took a chance. They stepped up.

*All images © Kevin Goss-Ross.

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