Pirouettes and pop ‘n locks

“Requiem for a Homegirl” combines classical ballet with modern hip-hop

by Sara Nicole Miller

Momentum is all about finding the newest, brightest, most exciting movers and shakers in the Twin Cities.

Beginning this weekend and extending into next, “Momentum: New Dance Works” will highlight upcoming choreographic voices at The Southern Theater. The performers range widely in style and genre, from Karen Sherman’s “Tiny Town” to Leah Nelson and Abstraktion’s “Requiem for a Homegirl.”

Momentum, a co-collaborative production put on by The Walker Art Center and The Southern Theater, has been profiling emerging dance talents such as Nelson and Sherman since 2001.

The Zimbabwean-born Nelson, who grew up in a traditional Shona culture, works a lot in the hip-hop idiom, using hip-hop movements and positing them into a modernist context.

“She has worked very hard to craft dance work which uses the hip-hop medium in a way and marry it, blend and integrate it with a modern dance sensibility,” said Jeff Bartlett, artistic director for the Southern Theater. “I was blown away.”

“Requiem for a Homegirl” deals with a range of issues, from race and dislocation to the tyranny of language and the beautiful potential found in community and Afrocentric philosophies, such as rhythmic connection and cycle.

Nelson approaches different fusions of movement and hip-hop flavors from a cultural perspective. In mixing dance styles, she speaks of her background, which resembles a colonized past. Physically, internally and externally, “ballet is so strongly in my body,” Nelson said.

She also attempts to integrate the feeling of spontaneity in creativity, an element that is characteristic of traditional hip-hop culture.

Bartlett said the performance possesses a “soft, gentle delivery yet really moving. She gives the work an incredible dramatic tension.”

Nelson added, “Language has that ability to translate to different social levels Ö Literally, English was beaten into me.”

A smirk forms on Nelson’s face as she mentions a piece entitled “Blue Blood Thugs.”

“The characters in it are W and the Uncle Sams. And we’ll just leave it at that,” she said about the highly satirical performance.

But mainly, Nelson said, “Requiem for a Homegirl” is about “a subtle investigation of urban communities: the strife, the triumph, the tensions, focusing on the potential for community.”