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In "Djellaba Groove," Roxane Butterfly Worldbeats mix tap and flamenco. (By Nicholas Six)
Saturday, December 1, 2007

M.I.A.

The low-end rumble was so massive at M.I.A.'s sold-out 9:30 club show Thursday night that patrons who kept their cellphones on vibrate probably were under the impression they were being called and texted throughout the night. The bass-rich, recorded beats were constantly pounding, to a much higher degree than on the London-born, Sri Lankan-raised political rapper's two superlative albums, this year's "Kala" and 2005's "Arular." And while her power-to-the-impoverished-people messages still came through -- well, at least when her muddy vocals were audible -- this show was most certainly an exercise for the booty, not the brain.

Hip-hop, grime, electro and Baltimore club were the main sounds that M.I.A.'s songs were built upon. Her only musical accompaniment was a DJ with some turntables and a laptop, but there was never a feeling of emptiness that often results from such a setup. A barrage of colorful, often politically charged images zoomed across the massive projection screen behind the stage. M.I.A. -- real name Mathangi "Maya" Arulpragasam -- and her two hype women kept the energy level at a consistently rowdy level, and there was no shortage of fresh dance moves.

M.I.A., wearing giant sunglasses, large "M" earrings and a purple bra over a black shirt for most of the show, seemed most comfortable when the 9:30 staff was most uncomfortable. That is, the few occasions she was joined onstage by dozens of concertgoers, some of whom danced and shouted along but many of whom predictably snapped photos with their camera phones. Her ease in a large crowd isn't surprising, because many of her songs, particularly "Hussel," "Galang" and "World Town" ("Hands up/Guns out/Represent the world town") favor chant-along choruses that could be interpreted as slogans for ragtag Third World posses. That certainly wasn't the clientele at the 9:30 club Thursday, but the sweaty masses got down just the same.

-- David Malitz

Roxane Butterfly Worldbeats

Tappers are often as much musicians as they are dancers, with their clicks, scuffs and shuffles becoming an integral part of the sound score. This was certainly true of Roxane Butterfly Worldbeats' "Djellaba Groove," presented Thursday at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center.

The dancers, three tap and one flamenco, produced one staccato sequence after another, expertly interplaying with the musical score. Even the trickiest syncopations sounded sharp and clear.

Though their technique was impressive throughout, the first half of the program was artistically disjointed. A screen behind the dancers displayed video that Artistic Director Roxane Butterfly shot in Morocco, Spain and southern France. The film was stunning: images of water gently lapping against rocks, or a woman climbing a massive desert sand dune. The backdrop had enormous potential to provide impetus for or context to the choreography. But the movements did not appear to have any thematic connection to the filmic scenes.

The program improved in the second half, with more deliberate, detailed choreography and the footwork still at full throttle. First, Butterfly and dancer Claudia Rahardjanato stood in squares of light, their backs to the audience. While the live music ensemble played unhurried, sparse cadences, the dancers' pace became increasingly agitated and their taps more intricate. This tension between the dancers and the musicians created suspense and intrigue.

Later, Butterfly tapped a solo accompanied only by the percussionist. They worked harmoniously but also pushed each other to intensify and elaborate on the rhythm, in both a duet and a duel.


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