Raphael Xavier did something new in the world of dance: He brought breakdancing to the theater.
Xavier and four other dancers performed "Point of Interest," at the Sheldon Theatre on Saturday, Nov. 17. The show is composed by Xavier and comprises five pieces that include break dancing, music and poetry.
According to the Sheldon, in "Point of Interest, Xavier tackles the natural, humorous and at times painful change of the maturing Breaker dancer." Xavier, now 48, has been dancing since 1983. In 2007, he was diagnosed with osteomyelitis, which threatened to end his breakdancing career. Since then, Xavier has meditated on what it means to be an aging breaker.
Though not everyone can understand or enjoy breakdancing, Xavier said he hopes that audiences will understand and relate to the narrative of getting older and working through how that can and will impact what can be done physically.
"All the movement that's in this work is about the sustainability and the longevity in performance in association with the youth as I get older," Xavier said.
Breaking began about 50 years ago. Breakers would dance in the center of a circle and "battle" one another, meaning that two dancers or two groups would compete to see who had the best moves. The final dance move in a set is usually ended towards the dancer's competitor, as if to say, "See what I can do? Beat that."
Now, Xavier has transitioned the circle-centric dance to the stage. He explained that before bringing breakdancing to the theater, there was no way for breakers to "go pro" with their dancing.
Xavier told the Sheldon audience during the discussion after the performance, "If I give any kid in here a basketball, they have one option: I'm going to be a professional basketball player. If I give a kid in here a pair of sneakers, they have a billion options: Basketball, football, soccer, golf, tennis, kickball, dodgeball, right? Any of that stuff. There's nothing that I can give a kid and suggest he's going to be a professional breaker."
According to Xavier, breaking is considered by many as "old school," an artform that is associated with 1980s and 1990s New York. However, Ricky "Stuntman" RocAny, one of the five breakers in the show, pushed back on the idea that breaking is old school. He explained that there are numerous new moves that have been influenced by and based on older or original break dance moves.
"Someone once said this is like a moving artform. So it's new, old, something's old (and) is new again," concluded RocAny.
Xavier pushed further against the idea that breaking is "old school." He told the audience, "Ballet is 18,032,056 years old. And they're still doing the same stuff. Nutcracker is 15 million B.C. They're still doing the same stuff. This dance is 40-something, years old, let's just say it's not even 50 years old. It's all new. That question will be more relevant probably 25 years from now. Because the only thing left to do is fly. And these kids, they're almost doing it."
By bringing breaking to the stage, Xavier said she hopes to continue the evolution of dance. Though what he and the other four dancers do on the stage is breaking, it is different from the classic "street" breaking because the dance is done with theater rules in mind. For example, when breaking on the stage, dancers always face the audience. When battling in a circle, it does not matter where a move is landed or what part of the circle the breaker is facing. However, it would not make sense for theater-goers if every move was performed with the breaker's back to the audience.
Xavier also had to find a way to make a dance last the length of a show. Usually, battles consist of sets that only last a couple of minutes. Very few people would attend a show just to see five minutes of content. So, "Point of Interest" expands breakdance moves by adding other movements, poetry, repetition of moves and a variety of other tactics to make breaking into a show-length event.
Xavier hopes that bringing breaking to the stage will allow people to breakdance professionally. That idea appealed to an 11-year-old audience member. During the post-show conversation, his mother told Xavier and the four other breakers, "Five minutes into the show my son turned to me and said, 'I know what I want to do with my life.'"