Hybrid melds hip hop, ballet, breakdance

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Rubberbandance Group, Gravity of Centre

Where: McPherson Playhouse

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When: Friday and Saturday, 7:30 p.m.

Tickets: $38 or $58 (plus service charges) at rmts.bc.ca or 250-386-6121

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Victor Quijada learned breakdance in the barrios of Los Angeles, formal-dance forms at arts high school and classical ballet from contemporary choreographer Twyla Tharp. But the style of dance born from those experiences is more than the sum of its parts, he says.

“The catchphrase that comes out of that is ‘ballet-meets-hip-hop,’ ” he said on the phone from Montreal. “But it really is not doing anybody justice when we say that.”

Instead, he says the members of Rubberbandance Group, the company he started 10 years ago, are performing a new form. The Montreal-based group, co-directed by Anne Plamondon, returns to Victoria Friday and Saturday as part of Dance Victoria’s Dance Days.

Members of the troupe, who have technical backgrounds ranging from circus acrobatics to ballet, are trained together in the Quijada technique.

“It’s not just a cut-and-paste of ballet vocabulary, hip-hop vocabulary or break vocabulary,” he said. “It’s my experience and everything that I’ve known and experienced to this moment.”

Quijada said his artistic development began at age seven, when he danced with older kids on the streets as a b-boy. Hip-hop was a folk culture, as he described it, spread from person to person through action.

“That’s just what we were, we were hip-hoppers,” he said. “It wasn’t something we went to the dance studio to do. It was just the way that we moved, the way we talked, the music we listened to, the way we dressed, the way that we expressed ourselves.”

But he didn’t become aware that hip hop might be an art form until he began studying at Los Angeles County High School for the Arts. It not only introduced him to other forms of dance, but to great artists in the fields of literature, visual arts and beyond.

“I was introduced to this concept of art as art. What it had done in the past. And that art could actually change people,” he said.

“It was a very amazing moment for me to kind of realize that maybe my dancing, this dancing that I had been doing as a kid to get attention — it was my ego, my character, my personality — that it could possibly have the power to do more than what I was using it for.”

Fifteen years after those seeds were planted, and Quijada had developed a career performing ballet and contemporary dance with companies like Tharp!, Ballet Tech and Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montreal, he turned his gaze back to his roots.

In a 1999 application for a residency with Manhattan’s New Dance Group, performers were asked what they were hoping to accomplish with their work. Quijada wrote, “I am hoping to create a new contemporary dance form.”

The company’s artistic director said he didn’t see it at the time. But Quijada said he just needed some time.

Rubberbandance, which borrows Quijada’s “Rubberband” nickname from his youth, has had 10 years to hone its style. Asked if there was a moment when he realized he had achieved the goal he revealed on his audition application, Quijada paused.

“I’m in that moment right now,” he said. “It’s been 10 years of refining and analysis. Now, what used to take three years is taking nine months. What used to take nine months is taking three months. It’s getting condensed and condensed into a smaller and smaller pill.”

Teaching the technique to new dancers is now methodical and airtight, he said.

“Everyone is speaking a new language together.”

asmart@timescolonist.com

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