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October 24, 2014

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Face the “MÜS.I.C.” and dance

Jabbawockeez are the Strip’s great white-masked hope

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Justin M. Bowen

The Jabbawockeez perform during the opening of their new show Friday at the Hollywood Theater at MGM.

Jabbawockeez Premiere @ MGM

The Jabbawockeez perform during the opening of their new show Friday at the Hollywood Theater at MGM. Launch slideshow »

Calendar

  • What: JabbaWockeeZ present MÜS.I.C
  • Where: Hollywood Theatre at MGM Grand
  • When: 9:30 p.m. nightly, though May 26
  • Cost: $54-65

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They're the newest stars of the Las Vegas Strip, but odds are you wouldn't recognize even one of them if you bumped into them in a casino or in a buffet line. Nameless, wordless, faceless, raceless and gender-ambiguous, the seven-man dance crew known as Jabbawockeez perform their entire show behind enigmatic white masks. You never see their faces — even when they take their standing ovation bows.

Jabbawockeez recently opened a three-week run at the Hollywood Theatre at MGM Grand, and they are just what the Strip needs — an infusion of young energy, pop-culture immersion, and surreal imagery and imagination. Augmented with the four-man SuperCr3w, the group arrives with a built-in fan base, having won the first season of MTV's America's Best Dance Crew competition. Their expansive artistry draws from breakdance and Gene Kelly movie musicals, Midnight Star and Massive Attack, The Matrix and, um, mime.

As the audience files in, a masked dancer hops up on a railing and galvanizes them; he then coaxes audience members to make their own moves in the spotlight.

That right there would make for an amusing, endearing show — the Jabbawockeez crowd apparently comes prepared to move it, too. But Jabbawockeez takes it much, much further.

Their show is called MÜS.I.C. (pronounced Muse-I-See), framed with a somewhat pretentious high-concept video and voice-over, something about making music visible.

When it comes time to describe dancing, words tend to fail. Here goes: You'll see a playful fusion of precision and fluidity in hops and flips, freezes and bounces, beat-passing chain reactions and one-handed full-body rotations.

The no-hands head-spins deserve their own sentence.

And you can't single out any one dancer, which is part of the point of the masks. As in classic mime or Japanese Noh theater, a blank face can express every emotion with subtle movement, light and color.

Moving as individuals and as an entity, Jabbawockeez depict every beat and sonic detail of the electro-emphasizing sound collages created by The Bangerz, who, in the hip-hop tradition, plunder pop-culture treasure troves.

In one extended segment, the Jabbawockeez members emerge as dance impressionists, physically quoting other artists in a montage of dance hits past and present, famous and obscure. Their recreation of Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" (while playing Guitar Hero) is hair-raising.

And Jabbawockeez neatly beat Cirque du Soleil to the punch with their Michael Jackson tribute section — with faces obscured, Jackson's hits are distilled to their essence — pure dance genius — beyond the distraction of persona or backstory.

A thrill goes through the crowd when the group steps to the unmistakable intro of Beyonce's "Single Ladies" — and as they blur swagger and silliness, the performers present a subtextual subversion of sex-role rigidity, a snap-back at anyone who ever challenged or ridiculed the masculinity of men who dance.

MÜS.I.C. offers a bit of everything that sells on the Strip — and more — with projected animations, chase scenes, nods to sci-fi and kung-fu movies, and costumes by Kara Saun, an alumna of Project Runway, who take the basics of B-boy style and amps it up with gloss and glitter. The guys get in a good-natured poke at such Vegas-showbiz archetypes as Elvis, showgirls and Blue Man Group.

Dance crews are springing up everywhere around the world, a limitless wellspring of self-trained, homegrown creative energy. Jabbawockeez are here for a limited engagement, but based on MÜS.I.C., they could — should — easily make a home base here.

— Originally published in Las Vegas Weekly

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