If art is a boat on the flow called society, then FLEXN Evolution is a paddle, daunting its severe waves. Just recently street artists have got on to the walls of the galleries and scenes of great halls, while today their projects aim to empower social change through performance.

In 2015 spectators of the Park Avenue Armory became first witnesses of non-standard for the dance world project FLEXN. Picking abundantly expressive technique, dancers denounced the discrimination challenges of the ordinary street anywhere in the US. Now they return with FLEXN Evolution.

Pioneers

Two years ago, the theater and opera director Peter Sellars and flex veteran Reggie Gray (Reggie Roc) united  21 New York dancers to work on a new project within the walls of the Park Avenue Armory. The crew created a mix of solitary and collective compositions that together narrate somebody’s intimate story, reflecting modern struggles. Members call themselves The D.R.E.A.M. RING –  Dance Rules Everything Around Me.

Bone-breaking art

First of all, the performance impresses with its technique, from which the name of the project has gone. Flex is the direction of street dancing, inspired by the Jamaican dancer Bruck-up in 90’s and developed in the dance battles on the outskirts of Brooklyn. Growing up in the midst of crime and diminished opportunities, local young generation created a positive force to fight for their future. To prove that they are not powerless. Mixing bone breaking, gliding, pausing, snapping, flex escaped from informal dance halls and reggae clubs, becoming a creative way of social activism.

FLEXN addresses issues concerning social injustice, discrimination and inequality while dancers create their personal stories through these post-modernist movements. Narratives seem  extremely rough, impressive,  often exaggerating due to the grotesque nature of the dance. Here ”bone breaking” is an embodiment of human suffering from daily social blows and having to overcome it with patience.  In the latest performance dancers also have added dance-hall ”grooving”, ”gliding” in order to visualize the urge to run away, ”getting lower”  to become invisible, hiding, and other movements that become common and recognizable.

“Street dance has graduated,” Peter Sellars said. “It now has a breadth and depth of vocabulary that we’ve never seen before.”

Dance to protest

This year, the creators returned with an improved version of the performance, even more immersed in the political context. The show consists of several both rehearsed and improvised performances by activists from the D.R.E.A.M. This time, the creators focused on the errors of American laws and judicial system that provoke inequality and discrimination.

FLEXN Evolution remains true to its credo of using dance as a protest demonstration. When Sellars and Gray started this project in 2015, the American society experienced a shock after the murders of Eric Garner and Michael Brown. The dance crew consists mostly of black men. Not surprisingly, these events influenced the performance. The 2015 show is not about these two specific tragedies, but about the fact that American racism has grown so extremely deep, making the black population truly unsafe and powerless. The performers sought to provoke a social dialogue about the need to take action to mend the oppressed society and make it healthy.

FLEXN speaks to America about things America can’t articulate. – Peter Sellars, director.

Nevertheless, the FLEXN Evolution is not exclusively focused on the United States. Now they are in the European tour. By this creators emphasize that, on the wave of recent events, the whole world passes the same tests. The meaning of the struggle is maintained between continents.

We touch on many pressing issues today, like immigration with the wall at the border and the Muslim ban. There’s no difference in audiences, because we ultimately go through the same struggles at some point in our lives, from Brooklyn to Holland. – Reggie Gray, flex pioneer.

Complex blow

In fact, FLEXN Evolution is a whole palette of performances that include not only those 90 minutes of dance self-expression.

What makes all FLEXN performances unique is a preceded public discussion devoted to the current topic and moderated by the show’s creators. In 2017, the panel discussion touched on the topic of not only racial equality, but judicial justice. Activists, researchers, journalists, lawyers, representatives of social movements and public figures shared their opinions about the mass incarceration, told cases and facts from life. With the support of the Common Justice, the discussion participants tried to come up with some way out of the situation when the black population faces gun violence and police brutality.

Another bonus is a photography installation of portraits of the dancers. Artist Carol Dragon called it Madd Pain. Why? As Reggie Roc said, these works represent how Americans feel on the eve of the first three months of the new Administration.  Broken. Shamed. Choked Up.

When walking through the photo installation, you feel this intensity that prepares you for the show.

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