By Alisa Samadani, Staff Writer Originally published in Issue 6, Volume 32 of The University Register on Friday, November 22, 2019

UMM was graced with a series of performances by the HipletTM ballerinas on Saturday, November 9. The globally recognized dance company held their show in the Edson Auditorium of the Student Center from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m.

HipletTM’s roots began back in 1968, when a young stagehand was awestruck by dancers from the Dance Theatre of Harlem. After signing up for a free evening class, this young man became enthralled by dance and later became a principal dancer and company member of the Dance Theatre of Harlem. Today, this young man is better known as Homer Bryant, founder of the Chicago Multi-Cultural Dance Center and creator of the HipletTM technique. Bryant opened his own studio, named “Bryan Ballet,” in 1991, with a focus to offer all dancers, especially low-income students and dancers of color, an experience with classical ballet. Over the years, Bryant has continued to incorporate hip-hop into ballet, coining the official term, HipletTM, in 2009.

In 2016, Brazil’s Bailarinos re-shared posts of Bryant’s Hiplet classes and the group went viral. Offers for commercial work and collaborations from all over the world started pouring in. Today, HipletTM has over 1 billion views and the phones never stop ringing.

The Hiplet Ballerinas are a performance group based out of the Chicago Multi-Cultural Dance Center in the USA. Specifically designed to make Ballet accessible by all, HipletTM is a fusion between classical pointe technique, hip-hop, and a variety of other urban dance styles. Bryant sees dance as a way to build character and discipline. Finding inspiration from his daughter’s challenges with cerebral palsy, he pursues perfection but understands fallibility. Bryant detailed part of his process, saying “you can take technique and put it on any child’s body. The trick is to make kids feel good, to get them to open up that vision peripherally, to see others in class, not just themselves in the mirror, and to help them join a common purpose.”

There are currently three choreographers with the company: Leandra Groth, NinaRose Wardanian, and Taylor Edwards. Groth began dancing at age four, and has been choreographing since she was fifteen. In 2009, Groth began assisting Bryant with Hiplet classes and was responsible for creating much of their iconic early choreography. Wardanian began her formal training at the Chicago Academy for the Arts and the Chicago Multi-Cultural Dance Center, where she studied under Bryant. Wardanian went on to join the Las Vegas Contemporary Dance Theater, before returning to the Chicago Multi-Cultural Dance Center to teach as well as perform. Wardanian has been a performer with the HipletTM ballerinas in the past, and is choreographing for HipletTM this season.

Edwards is a recent graduate of the University of Missouri Kansas City, having trained at multiple reputable dance companies. Trained in many styles of dance, Edwards works tirelessly to fulfill the highest expression of herself as a human being and is very passionate about living as an artist. There are currently 11 HipletTM dancers. From classical training to studying primarily under Bryant, each ballerina has had several years of formal training in ballet, with a few ballerinas being first-years to HipletTM as of 2019.

The performance was unlike any other dance routine in the world. The first act was solely about the journey from hip-hop and ballet, to HipletTM. The first song, “It’s Hiplet,” utilized both pointe technique and vintage hip-hop dance moves. Choreographed by Homer Bryant, with music by Jerome Hopkins, this piece was just the tip of the iceberg, a cold opening to the world of HipletTM. Clashing classical music with rap, the ballerinas wore typical ballet attire and seemed to split their bodies in half -- hip hop from the waist up, ballet from the waist down. This theme continued throughout the performance and seems to be a staple in HipletTM.

The second piece, “Because Of Them We Can,” is a tribute to the African American female dancers who came before HipletTM. With a short film by Nia Cooper and choreography by Taylor Edwards, this song celebrates those who inspired women to dance and to express themselves freely in the 21st century.

The third piece, “Rhythm The Soul Of Life,” has been performed for years, premiering in 1994 with the original Bryant Ballet Company. This piece celebrates the roots of Hiplet, journeying through the diaspora of African American dance, showcasing a variety of African and Afro-Carribean dance techniques, as well as intertwining classical ballet and pointe technique.

The fourth piece, “From Ballet To Hiplet,” had ballerinas and hip hop dancers working first in opposition, then in unison, dancing to classical violin music set to a hip hop beat. This song was clearly a crowd favorite, featuring songs by Black Violin and Nuttin’ But Stringz. After a brief intermission, the second act began. The second act was more focused on what Hiplet has become, with a more futuristic approach in terms of audio and visual appeal.

The fifth piece, “Welcome to Chicago,” honors Hiplet’s geographical roots with music by Chance the Rapper, Ric Wilson, and others.

The sixth piece, “Missing You,” is an emotional journey through love, loss, and sisterhood. This piece is a departure from Hiplet, featuring a more mature approach. After excerpts from Hiplet’s pilot trailer by Addison Woods, the final piece was performed.

“Finale,” as the piece is called, was a combination of everything shown so far, and was quite honestly blinding, for better or worse.

HipletTM is always growing, continuing to modernize with social media, while still holding to its classical roots. The performances were a hit, earning long rounds of applause even before the curtain went down.