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Keo Woolford

'I Land'

by Carmel Morgan

May 2, 2009 -- Dance Place, Washington, DC

The description of Hawai’ian native Keo Woolford’s one-man show “I Land” admittedly intrigues. It’s not often you see a performance billed as combining hula and hip hop. Woolford’s semi-autobiographical tour de force does that and more, and the multi-talented Woolford does it all with aplomb. “I Land,” which was created by Woolford in collaboration with director Roberta Uno, is both reverent (he refers to one hula master as a “Hula God”) and irreverent. The melding of touching and uproariously funny moments makes for a great evening of dance/theater.

Woolford was introduced to hula dance while he was a high school student. Clearly a natural-born performer, in “I Land” Woolford entertains the audience with tales of his first awkward teenage hip shakes as he tried to impress the hula teacher whom he idolized. In a spunky and sometimes sidesplitting narrative, he guides the audience through his adventures of young adulthood – his first taste of alcohol, drugs, born-again Christianity, and even a taste of stardom as a member of a pop band, which was supposedly Hawai’i’s answer to ‘N-Sync. Woolford perfectly captures the humor and heartache of coming of age in the 1980s. Despite the fact that his story is highly personal and refers a great deal to Hawai’ian culture (the program notes contain a glossary of terms), it is easy to relate to him. “I Land” like Hawai’i itself, remains warm and inviting.  

The approximately eighty minute performance of “I Land,” which has no intermission, flies by quickly since the singing, dancing, and spoken word are seamlessly crafted. The hula choreography by Robert Cazimero and the hip hop choreography by Rokafella add punch to the work, but a true dance fan would probably complain that there should be more dancing. Although dancing is certainly an important part of the show, what comes across more than fine technique is Woolford’s pure passion for dance. Shirtless and grass-skirted as he dances hula or breakdancing in a t-shirt and jeans, Woolford is an utter beauty to behold.

Interspersed with the levity “I Land” provides are serious messages about colonialism, identity, and the sacred nature of hula. Woolford pointedly demonstrates that hula can be a powerfully masculine dance form that extends far beyond the exotic commodity ugly tourists hunger to see. Woolford’s pride in the art of hula drives the performance and ultimately makes his show a tremendous success. The 2007 Solo Performance of the Year awarded by L.A. Stage Scene to Woolford for “I Land” is well-deserved.

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