Wednesday, 17 July 2013

R16 Korea: A Celebration of the BBoy Culture!

As Alfonso_n_Korea tweeted ‘even the monsoon rains can’t stop the #R16 Korea’ (which R16 Korea re-tweeted) the day before the 2013 R16 Korea World BBoy Championships, the skies were gloomy, the winds were howling and the streets in Seoul were wet from the heavy downpour. But even the bad weather could not keep the crowds from heading to the Olympic Park in Seoul during the weekend to enjoy the biggest bboy party of the year!
                     (No monsoon rains could stop the party!)
                            (Long lines at the Ticket Box!)

Yes, R16 Korea is not just a competition and it’s not just a gathering of who’s who in the bboy world either. It is actually a celebration of the bboy culture. And if it’s a celebration, it’s a parteeeh!

The year 2013 is the 7th year of R16 Korea, although I only heard about it until about three years ago when the organizers and the Korea Tourism Organization (KTO) stepped up their campaign to promote this international bboy competition. I first attended R16 Korea in 2010 when I got a free ticket from KTO, and then in 2011 when I received a ‘press pass’ from the R16 Korea organizers. Last year, I missed the whole thing as I was out of the country. 

Luckily, this year, I was around to enjoy R16 Korea’s way of celebrating the bboy culture, and enjoy I did.

                        (A Red Bull DJ at the street festival)

And since I was allowed to invite friends, I signed up two with the Korea Tourism Organization for them to get VIP tickets, too. And although my trip from my Hannam-dong neighborhood to the competition venue at the Olympic Park was quite a long route, it was always worth the trip! I guess crossing the river is always exciting especially if there was a party to cross for.

                   (Juan Doe's artwork at the street festival)

The first day of the competition was all about the solo bboys and bgirls. These finalists, who have battled their way from their national and regional competitions, have finally reached the final stage where they can be declared the world champion, the best of the best, in the bboy, locking and poppingcompetitions.

                               (The urban street festival)

In the solo bboy category, Bboy Reflex of the Philippines, who won the Southeast Asian regional finals, represented Southeast Asia. Unfortunately, he lost his first battle against Bboy Roo of Korea. At the end of the night, Bboy Issei of Japan was the solo bboy champion, Nao of Japan was the solo locking champion, and Hoan of Korea was the solo popping champion. Until now, I still get confused between locking and popping by the way. Ha-ha-ha! But my confusion aside, these champions' hard work paid off! Paid off handsomely in thousands of dollars in prize money, that is.

                                  (Bboys Issei and Blond)

But what brought the house down on the first night were the guest performances of Jinjo Crew, former R16 Korea crew champions, and Monster Woo Fam, which are both from Korea. Jinjo Crew’s 19 members were divided into three crews who danced to three genres of a song. My favorite were their classic jacket routines, which I saw them perform a couple of years ago, and the retro section complete with retro pants, shirts and sleek hairstyle. These guys are amazing! The current K-pop bands who try to make some bboy moves in their music videos look like beginners compared to the bboys of Jinjo Crew and Monster Woo Fam. They’re a league of their own.
                              (The solo bboy winners!)

Although he lost to Hoan of Korea at the popping finals, Josh of Singapore made a lot of local fans with his style and his on-stage good-luck paraphernalia: a Singaporean flag and what looks like an iPad mini to video his performance.  I hoped he successfully recorded his battle. On Sunday night, his Singaporean fans who attended the championships posed with Josh in front of the R16 board and they asked me to take their group photo.

And while the energy at the solo battles was already at its maximum, on Sunday night, during the crew battles, it was just over the top. If the Olympic Park stadium wasn’t made of sturdy materials, the roof could have blown off from so much energy emanating from the stage and from the bleachers. Every time a bboy or bgirl did an impossible move, the crowd just went wild. One of favorite bboys during the battles was Morning of Owl’s  Bboy Pocket, who did his flares like he was just making coffee or something. A flare was originally called Thomas Flair as invented by an American gymnast, Kurt Thomas. It’s like swinging both legs around you like an electric fan while only being supported by both hands on the floor. What brought the crowd to its feet was when Bboy Pocket actually took off his shirt while doing a flare.

I met Bboy Pocket two years ago on my way home after watching the R16 Korea in 2011. I spoke to him at the Olympic Park subway station while we were both waiting for the train. He told me he had to get home early that night as he still had to go to school the next morning. I think he was still in high school then. With his continued success in his bboy profession, I wonder how his grades are in school. I hope he’s able to juggle his time between school and his bboy activities like he juggles his flares.

The eight crews of Morning of Owl (Korea), Battle Born (USA), SKB Crew (Australia) , Mental Fusion Crew (China), The Future Crew (Taiwan), Body Carnival (Japan), Melting Force (France) and Slavic United (Russia) battled it off until the remaining two, Morning of Owl and Body Carnival, were left standing. And the final showdown between the two was just a delight to watch. These guys are not just bboys who can breakdance, twist, twirl, spin and tumble; these guys are artists in their own right, inventing and creating moves that nobody else would have thought possible. Risking a broken arm, wrist or worse, their neck, they defy gravity, defy physics and of course, defy any chiropractor. Ha-ha-ha!
                                  (The crew battles!)
In the end, Morning of Owl was just too much for the competition. Once again, a crew from Korea was declared battle champion of R16 Korea, and Body Carnival was declared the performance champion. Before the crew battle began, each of the eight crews performed individually displaying their creativity, originality and everything what they’re made of, and of those eight performances, Body Carnival was declared the best.
                                              (BWB, Khan and Moon)
The guest performance of Blue Whale Brothers with Bboys Khan and Moon was also amazingly impressive. I could tell a lot of work (and hours!) went into their preparation and rehearsals, especially when the four of them had to synchronize their moves with the visual animation behind them. Only top professionals could do it since they were actually dancing ‘blindly’. They could not see the animation behind them and yet with such precision, they had to move not only with each other, but with the music and the animation flashed on the white screen in front of which they danced. These guys had the precision, accuracy and creativity of Olympic synchronized swimmers! 
                                        (Salah on stage)

Also a very memorable performance was that of the popping legend, Salah of France. His number actually reminded me of the mime of another French legend, Marcel Marceau, which I only saw on TV. But thanks to R16 Korea, I was able to see in person how Salah mesmerized his audience with his magical numbers.  The day before, at the urban arts festival outside the Olympic Park stadium, I saw a Korean fan asked Salah for a photo-op. Not only did Salah obliged, but he also chatted with that fan. That just shows he’s not only a great artist; he’s also a nice person. I hope he returns to R16 Korea next year to perform. And if he does, everyone should not miss his performance.
                               (The crowd going wild!)
So, instead of having to stay home while the rains ruined my tennis weekend, R16 Korea provided an even more interesting and enjoyable weekend! So, thank you to the Korea Tourism Organization and the staff handling the K-Performance Supporters for the VIP tickets (and the souvenirs!) for me and my friends.
                        (The final battle of the night! What a showdown!)
And congratulations to all the winners! Those endless hours training and perfecting those gravity-defying, shoulder-dislocating moves have paid off!
                           (The crew battle champions!)

And to the organizers of R16 Korea for another successful World Bboy Championships and their sponsors, that was a job well done!  I know everyone had a lot of sleepless nights before the finals. Congratulations!  

So, thanks to R16 Korea! My weekend was rained out, but it was a blast! See you all again in 2014!

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