Sat Dec 20, Showbox, 9 pm, $10.
Back in the mid-'80s, Keymatic's jam "Breakin' in Space" captured the spirit of the breakdance moment. A mix of rap, funk, and electro, the song is about a man who catches "a ride on a spaceship through galaxies," and while aboard this spaceship meets some breakers who are having a party. Impressed, the man "catches the groove" and concludes that "breakin' in space" is "the thing in the '80s."
Keymatic's song was the most perfect expression of breaking at the time because its science-fiction imagery (or sonic fiction--Afronauts in starships, freaky robots, and so on) matched the cinematic science fiction (Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back) that informed many of the breakdance moves--which, in turn, reflected the period's belief that "space is the place." The end of the Cold War (which fueled the Space Race) brought an end to galaxy fantasies, which is why Keymatic's song is so unsuitable for current breakers like Circle of Fire, a local breakdance crew. Utopian moon bases and distant space travel no longer inspire the dreams, and therefore the dance moves, of our times.
Circle of Fire's mode, like the mode of their local and international contemporaries, is not robotic. They don't moonwalk (also called the electric slide) or "pop and lock." And though their floor work is acrobatic, it's not preoccupied with creating the illusion of floating in space. The nine dancers in Circle of Fire don't have a fixed agenda; they are multifarious, fluid, supple, always shifting. They don't so much move as morph, perpetually, from one shape into another. If the first generation of breakers were robots designed by NASA, then the new generation are genetically engineered freaks designed by Gattaca Corporation.
Circle of Fire are even cautious about describing what they do as breakdancing. It's too limited a term for their art, which is influenced by a diversity of dance practices and traditions from around the world. According to Bob Foxhoven, who has been with Circle of Fire since they started in 1997, the crew prefers the term urban dancing, or not having a definition at all. "We don't like labels," he explains. "Yeah, we are rooted in breaking, but we do so many different things, and want to be open to new things, so calling it breaking seems insufficient."
Originally from San Francisco, Foxhoven, who moved to Seattle the very year the crew was formed, is part of the second wave of breakdancers (I'm not as uneasy about the term as Foxhoven). The first wave ran from about 1979 to 1985, when the breakdance bubble burst and lost value overnight. The second wave, which is now part of the underground hiphop scene, started around 1995 and is still alive and well. It's even a bit unfair to call this a second wave, because it's not really a fad--it doesn't feel like it's going to go big and bust. Modern breakdancing is now a fixed part of our culture, like gymnastics or even ballet.
"Back then [in the '80s] it was a new thing the world hadn't seen before," says Foxhoven. "Everyone caught on to it--but just to the image of it. Then it turned into a pop thing. What's different with the resurgence over the past 10 years is it's a lot stronger, now that it has been through a downfall and risen again."
Another element that distinguishes Circle of Fire from their noble ancestors is their extensive global profile. True, New York's legendary Rock Steady Crew visited Paris in the early '80s, and breakdance crews formed in all the major urban centers in the West, but current crews like Circle of Fire are not ambassadors of breakdance culture or even representatives of Seattle's breakdance scene but crews whose existence is almost wholly dependent on a complex of dance associations, websites, and distribution systems for DVD and VHS products (like Circle's video tape A Journey Through the Circle) that link them with other crews and breakdance enthusiasts around the world. In fact, Circle of Fire were noticed in Japan before Seattle took them seriously.
With their successful residency at the now-defunct Nation between 2000 and 2002, a performance at 2002's Bumbershoot, and, by way of Bob Foxhoven, the production of the hugely successful Red Bull Lords of the Floor in 2002 and 2003, local recognition of Circle is established and expanding. If the first breakers danced in space, then Circle of Fire dance for a global market connected by an expanding underground that starts right here in Seattle.