Screenshot of the video of dancers from the 'Don't Hit Mama' production

*The mission of the Hip-Hop Theater Festival has been to educate the public at large as to the broad scope of Hip-Hop culture. Though this was apparent to many who loved the culture early on, being made apparent through breakdancing, graffiti, DJing and so forth, its broad scope has been considerably narrowed.

The culture’s elements were once so popular that they were readily quoted by anyone on the streets: Hip-Hop dancing, grafitti, emceeing, and fashion were seemingly bound together with one supporting the other. These days the world’s knowledge of Hip-Hop is limited to the emcee because that’s all people are exposed to via radio and videos.

Partnering with the historic Harlem Stage, the Hip-Hop Theater Festival is a celebration of the senses. The Hip-Hop Theater Festival ran from September 25th and ended on October 16th and sort of fell in our laps as a story when another journalist we know of had to cancel out. The flyers were plastered all around NYC, so familiarity wasn’t an issue from a Hip-Hop perspective.

“In addition to supporting artist who are creating work for the stage or for the gallery we’re also looking to support the culture at large,” HHTF Executive Director Clyde Valentin told EURweb.com. “So that people have a wider understanding of themselves in terms of realizing there are a variety of ways which they can experience this culture. It isn’t just music, it isn’t just what you watch on TV, but you can be an active agent in your own culture, and that’s what we try to foster through the festival.”

It is to that end the Hip-Hop Theater Festival came into being in the year 2000. Founded by Chris Hoch, the Hip-Hop Theater Festival has gained international notoriety. But the door goes both ways thanks to HHTF creative director Kamilah Forbes. She is responsible for recruiting acclaimed Dutch dance crew and creative group Don’t Hit Mama, a theatrical troupe that performs amid the audience instead of on stage, giving the observer the feeling of being a part of the performance instead of a part from it.

“Basically, my job is in curation,” Ms. Forbes told us. “I go out and I find work and create a thematic thrust for the festival. I put the festivals together from an artistic and creative standpoint. I saw the ‘Don’t Hit Mama Dance Party’ in Holland in 2007. I was so inspired by their work. I remember standing in the theater and thinking ‘I don’t care what I do, I am getting them to the states’, and that’s what I did. We knew that this was something that we wanted to program so we partnered with the Dutch Consulate, we partnered with Don’t Hit Mama Dance Party, and then we had to fundraise and really plan.”

After two years of fundraising and planning, the Don’t Hit Mama Dance Party closed out the Hip-Hop Theater Festival and did so with a bang. Artistic, interpretive and graceful, the Don’t Hit Mama Dance Party was created by Nita Liem and Bart Duess to help Holland’s inner-city youth and is also celebrating its 10th year anniversary as well. The term Don’t Hit Mama has nothing at all to do with domestic violence. Mama is the earth and for dancers hitting “Mama” is a no-no because, according to Liem, she will hit back. Dancers are to glide above Mama and dance over her in a graceful manner.

“Bart Duess and I together are the artistic leaders of Don’t Hit Mama,” Liem told EURweb.com. “Ten years ago we wanted to move on with what was at that time, my work. Which was with inner-city youth creating theater by and for young people. That’s what I did from 1992 until 2000. Then in 2000 I came here to New York and I was very inspired by the club culture, and I thought it was also time for me to move on with the work and have it not only be focused on community work and theater, but to extend it,” she explained. “We weren’t sure if we wanted it to become a center or an organization for urban dance development, which is what we call it in the Netherlands. Basically, it’s dance projects are based on and inspired by African American dance styles.

“In the theater people have to sit and be quiet,” she explained. “It’s good, but it requires a level concentration. We started doing it like this because we’re working on a lot of time pressure and a budget pressure. Also, we like to develop and experiment. This, in a way, is a good experiment. It’s a good lab. It’s theater, but also there’s the loose improvisation nature of a club. For me, if you can combine the best of two worlds then that’s usually the best. So in 2004 we came up with a style that could best show respect for this dance style.”

The Don’t Hit Mama Dance Party was truly a sight to see and will certainly be coming back stateside next year. But the cultural exchange was not a one way street. Liem says she will do her best to bring American dancers to Holland as well. The performance featured B.Polite of Afro Mosaic Soul, Bed Stuy Veterans, House Freestyle Master and Loft Dancer: Bravo Brahms LaFortune, Ayesha Ngaujuah, Holly Bass, and others. In addition, New York City dance legend Archie Burnett was doing his thing on the dance floor with gusto. For more information on the Hip-Hop Theater Festival log on to www.HHTF.org and to find out about Don’t Hit Mama check out www.donthitmama.nl. We have some scenes below so you can see what we’re talking about: