"Stripped Back" Hip Hop Dance by Devon Steeltoe Wallace
In Stripped Back, choreographer and dancer Devon “Steeltoe” Wallace and dancer Daquan “DQ” Williams infused their movements with such genuine emotion that the entire audience was moved, whooping and gasping where appropriate. DQ entered the stage wearing large over-ear headphones, dancing along in a traditional upbeat hip hop and street style while Steeltoe desperately tried to get his attention. Ripping off the headphones and throwing them on the ground, the two men argued before DQ stomped off the stage.
When the music changed to Erykah Badu’s On and On, Steeltoe reverentially worshipped the headphones as the dancing became softer and more intimate. In synchronization, they made hip hop feel like contemporary dance, even when DQ spun around atop his head in a more tender take on the traditional b-boy headspin, his legs cocked in a stag shape.
Themes of depression, suicide, and brotherhood were brought to light as DQ mimed hiding under the covers of a bed. Steeltoe oscillated between joy and sadness as his fingers walked all the way up his arm to his head, removing his hat as his face crumpled into tears. As he desperately grabbed a switchblade off the stage floor, bringing it to his wrist and squinching his eyes in preparation, DQ stopped his hand and pulled the knife away. They infused flips and jumps with sorrow and struggle then, back-to-back, supported each other as they simultaneously sank to the floor.
Both dancers had fantastic musicality, and in the Q&A after the performance, Steeltoe talked about how the music had come first when he was beginning to put together his choregraphy. Each song was a stripped back version, which helped them to take the raw energy of urban movement and to show its often-overlooked softer side. I will certainly be on the lookout for future performances from these two!
Stripped Back was one of five new pieces showcased at SylviDance’s 5by5 show at Dance Place in Washington, DC on September 8, 2018. To read my review of the full show, check out our newly re-launched Dance Metro DC Local Reviews page! I am so excited, as this was my first published review and the DC area is desperately in need of some dance journalists covering local dance! Huge thanks to Lisa Traiger for spearheading the publication!