Hip-Hop And Modern Dance Come Together In A Unique Collaboration

Apr 12, 2018

Credit Rebecca Thiele/WMUK

There’s something captivating about seeing two unlikely art forms together. Like watching a string quartet play Metallica. Next week, Wellspring Cori Terry & Dancers will present their spring concert collaboration with Kalamazoo hip-hop fusion band Last Gasp Collective. 


Founder and Artistic Director Cori Terry says they’ve never danced to music like this.

“There’s lyrics, there’s attitude. There’s a lot of rhythmic aspects to it that is just different than the kind of music that we’ve used before," she said. “I feel like it really works, that’s why it’s so exciting.”

Last Gasp founder and music director Jay Jackson says he’s always wanted the experience to be about more than just the music:

“Whether that entails drama, digital screen projection, lighting, acting, the whole nine — so that’s always been the vision from when we started. We didn’t have the means to execute, so in small ways we would. Like we’d do a music video with one dancer or we’d have a show where we’d have two dancers perform. So this is the first time that we’ve been able to do it on this large of a scale.”

Jackson says working with Wellspring has challenged the band to be more structured. Usually, Last Gasp will improvise in its live shows and play off the crowd. And when the band records its songs, Jackson mixes them much like a hip-hop producer. As a result, he says Last Gasp’s songs rarely sound the same every time:

“I come up with a cool drum part and I’ll be like Jon, our keyboardist, just play whatever you feel. Play for three minutes whatever you feel. And then I’ll later go back and take what I like from that and arrange it into a song. So Jon doesn’t even know what it turned into, what his playing turned into. So they don’t know these songs the way that Cori Terry and the dancers are hearing them, for instance. They’re hearing them for the first time almost just like the dancers are.”

The dancers need set songs for their choreography. So Jackson says band members have to play them the way they recorded them.

“It’s not an outrageous request, a band should be able to play a song the same way every time," said Jackson, laughing.

“They have to give up a little bit of their freedom in order to do it as close to the way it was choreographed," said Cori Terry.

"And we as choreographers have to give up, ‘Oh, but I loved it when that note happened right there. That was why I choreographed this whole movement’ — because that note may not happen. And so we both have to like go, ‘Ok, all right. This is like a third thing.’"

Jackson says the band extended their song "Golden Parade" from three minutes to more than eight minutes to give the dancers room for solos.

“I just tried to tell a story with it. Arranging ups and downs and drop-outs and climaxes,” he said.

That time also allowed Terry to tell her own story through dance. At the beginning of the piece, the dancers stomp together as if marching.

“You know, the world is in such a disheveled and upsetting place in so many ways, but we can just be this army of artists coming out onto the stage,” she explained.

Jackson and Terry say one of their goals with this collaboration is to show that you can mix art forms. That there doesn’t need to be this barrier between things like modern dance and hip-hop.

“I can think of a whole community who would probably never even step in here and probably don’t even know that there is this theatre here, or what they would come here for," said Jackson.

"I just want to like squash that whole barrier because that’s stupid.”

You can see Wellspring’s spring concert with Last Gasp Collective Thursday through Saturday next week. Thursday’s show will be a special performance for youth with a talk-back about collaboration hosted by Von Washington Jr. of the Kalamazoo Promise.