Versatile dance crew combines sharp dance moves with lots of laughs
When three friends from San Diego — Joe Larot, Kevin Brewer and Phil Tayag — decided they wanted to freestyle dance, inspired by Michael Jackson, Bruce Lee and several movies about hip-hop dance styles, they never expected to star on television (America’s Best Dance Crew) and create the first freestyle dance show to be in residency in Las Vegas and Australia.
But that is precisely what happened. With their precision moves and distinctive white masks, the current seven-member crew (the original three joined by Chris Gatdula, Rynan Paguio, Jeff Nguyen, and Ben Chung) parlayed winning American’s Best Dance Crew in 2008 into numerous TV appearances including The Ellen DeGeneres Show, Dancing With The Stars and Late Night With Jimmy Fallon.
Opening on tour with New Kids On The Block in 2009 (including at stop in Atlantic City), Jabbawockeez followed that success with tours of Asia and Australia and eventually the ongoing gigs in Vegas and Australia.
Jabbawockeez has brought its show MÜS I.C. (pronounced muse-I-see) to Harrah’s Resorts now through Sept. 2. It is the crew’s first East Coast residency.
Following the show’s opening night, Jabbawockeez founding member Kevin Brewer and Rynan Paguio spoke with AC Weekly.
The laughs in the show come naturally, Paguio explains: “We are just funny people in general. A lot of the humor comes from personal insight. A lot of the humor came on the spot when we were having fun making the show up.”
Jabbawockeez began with good friends Brewer, Joe Larot and Phil Tayag, who danced together for a long time and came from the background of dance troupes in college, and showcases, where some of the groups had 30 or 40 members.
Explains Brewer, “An idea came out that we should cover our faces, so [the audience] can’t pick a favorite. We wanted a more concentrated group so that we could bring out the dancing. We didn’t realize we had something amazing when we did it. We were just trying to be different. Here we find ourselves years later with a Vegas show, a show in Australia and now launching a show in Atlantic City. It’s kind of cool.”
Adds Paguio, “Even as hip-hop dancers in general we like dancing to different types of music. That’s one thing we wanted to push as Jabbawockeez, to step out of the box. Of course the foundation does come from hip-hop, from popping and locking and breaking, but we also take our inspiration from other places — martial arts, Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly. You would probably never hear a hip-hop group do a routine to Coldplay’s ‘Viva La Vida,’ but we were feeling it and it’s a song that we like and it just made sense.”
The original inspiration to dance for Brewer came from several sources, the hip-hop scene that exploded when he was growing up, martial arts, cousins who were into breaking, and of course, Michael Jackson. “‘Thriller’ was the biggest deal for me. That was huge. It sparked my interest in dancing. [And] my mother. She and her brothers used to dance.”
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