The diverse appeal of awardwinning hip-hop dance duo the Wondertwins becomes obvious when you take a look at their performance history. From touring with famed hip-hop artists Run DMC, LL Cool J, KRS One, and Afrika Bambaataa, and opening for such acts as Bobby Brown, Apollonia, Public Enemy, and Queen Latifah, to performing at the famed Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, the Public Theater’s Joe’s Pub, and the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater, the identical twin hip-hop sensations clearly straddle a number of worlds.
The Wondertwins — Billy and Bobby McClain — have an established relationship with dance residency the Yard of Chilmark, having created, performed, and worked within the school system during three separate stays on the Island. Now a larger audience will get the chance to check out the hip-hop pioneers when the Yard brings the Wondertwins to the PAC on Saturday, March 10.
The show, titled “To Hip Hop, With Love,” will include two segments that combine dance and song. The twins first developed the show during a previous residency at the Yard. The two pieces are called “Broadway to Hip-Hop” and “Sounds of Movement.” Both celebrate the world of entertainment, and will feature an eclectic soundtrack ranging from legendary rappers Busta Rhymes and KRS One to Sammy Davis Jr. According the Yard’s press release, “The Wondertwins’ performance offers a kaleidoscopic view of African-American entertainment traditions.”
Of the first piece, Billy says, “It’s coming from the base of two black men who previously performed on Broadway and then come back as custodians. They go back in time to their Broadway days. It gives people a chance to see how close the styles of hip-hop performance and Broadway really are. We show the influences that Broadway has brought to hip-hop.”
“Early hip-hop was flashy,” says Billy, citing influential groups like Grandmaster Flash.
Billy and Bobby have been dancing professionally since the dawn of hip-hop in the 1970s. As children they had their first real show at the Cyclorama in the South End of Boston, taking home first prize in a contest judged by the legendary Kurtis Blow. At age 10 they were asked to join Boston’s first professional street dance crew, the Funk Affects, a group that influenced and inspired the early success of New Edition and New Kids on the Block. After seven years with the crew, Billy and Bobby branched off to become the Wondertwins.
Among many other distinctions, the Wondertwins are six-time winners of “Showtime at the Apollo Theater,” where they also appeared with Maurice Hines’ Apollo Club Harlem. The brothers have won accolades, awards, and other honors in the areas of contemporary dance as well as popular music and culture.
Along with their busy performance schedule, the twins also serve as advisors and dance teachers in the Boston school system. Education is something that the dancers are committed to wholeheartedly. “In the beginning hip-hop music was more positive,” says Billy. “Hip-hop can be put into the wrong hands. It’s a billion-dollar industry. It’s become a thing to sell people, not about the black community. In the early days it was still viewed as an educational tool, it was important that there was a lot of pride. It wasn’t about separating people based on their beliefs. Being teachers and educators, we can see what negative hip-hop can do to young people. We’re very selective about the music we use.”
The soundtrack that the twins have curated for the two pieces they will perform on the Vineyard includes recordings of Martin Luther King Jr. and others, along with a dynamic audio universe that moves from Kelly and Astaire to a catalogue of rap and more.
“We use over 100 songs and soundbites,” says Billy. “It’s a huge score. Our audience runs from 7 years old to 70. It’s something that everyone can relate to, and something we stand by. We’re not doing anything just to do it. Everything we do we make sure it’s a part of us and it’s honest. Our goal is to make sure people get to see the other side of hip-hop — the performance side that has a story to it. We put everything in for a reason. We want the audience to become one.”
And then, of course, there’s the pure joy of watching exceptional dancing.
According to their bio on creativeground.org, “Over the years the Wondertwins have created a distinctive style all their own, with the technical facility of hip-hop, the sophistication of the glory days of the Cotton Club, the flash of Rat Pack era Las Vegas, and elements of vaudeville, robot, tap, and mime.”
Former Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre executive director Judith Jamison has praised the Wondertwins as “absolutely beautiful, strong, powerful, and electric … made for Broadway.”
The Wondertwins at the Performing Arts Center, Saturday, March 10, at 7 pm. General admission, $25, seniors, students, and military, $15, children under 12, $5. Tickets are available on the Yard website, dancetheyard.org, or at the door.