By Jessica Koslow
Jacob "Kujo" Lyons is one of the artistic directors of J.U.i.C.E. Hip Hop Dance Festival. He is also the founder of Lux Aeterna, a group that has performed in the festival each year. This past September, Lux Aeterna's piece was dominated by incredulous feats of physical strength, flexibility and grace. The five seemingly superhuman men and women balanced on each other's body parts and lifted each other in jaw-dropping formations, winding and twisting around each other like ninjas of steel.
Lyons is the fearless leader of Lux as well as a member. He's also hard of hearing: completely deaf in one ear and over 50% deaf in the other, though you'd probably never know it just from seeing him dance. His controlled, Cirque-like style includes elements of ballet, modern, acrobatics and capoeira. Yet Lyons is quick to point out that he is a b-boy first. Powered by his love of breaking, he started Lux Aeterna while enrolled at California State University, Northridge in 2006 with a central goal in mind: To elevate the hip-hop dance forms he participated in personally to the level of fine/classical art.
In other words, he wanted hip-hop dance to be considered timeless, as is ballet or the much younger modern. "Timeless aesthetics don't look antiquated. They can be continually adapted to fit contemporary circumstances and themes while still using vocabulary developed long ago before any of us were born," Lyons explains.
Lyons firmly believes it is possible for hip-hop to remain relevant. It already possesses one characteristic of classical art: It has the ability to transform. "When you witness a piece of classical art like Mozart or certain paintings or sculptures, you're transformed in some sort of way," says Lyons. "Your imagination takes off. The way that you looked at the world prior to witnessing that piece is no longer adequate to view the world after seeing the piece. I want my work to reach that level."
He continues, "Hip-hop is transformative if you participate in it, but the thing about classical art is that it is not just for the performer. It is for the witnesses to be transformed, motivated, inspired. I think my work could do that for people."
In the process of creating work he hopes is timeless and transformative, Lyons has birthed his own style of dance: a seamless hybrid in which it is not obvious where one discipline ends and another begins. "I take primarily breaking and integrate it with ballet, modern, acrobatics like gymnastics and capoeira, hand balance and circus types of things. I don't put styles side by side, but integrate them into something new."
This is not a far stretch from the beginnings of breaking. "Breaking is not a pure dance form," says Lyons. "It is a composite of multiple influences that were re-stylized into what it became, very urban and funky. Influences were added in, new ingredients."
For instance, elements of Bruce Lee, boxing, Russian folk dance, Native American dance, the Nicholas Brothers, and James Brown can all be seen in breaking, as if the founders "put them all into a pot, melted them and turned them into this new dance form that has a new aesthetic," comments Lyons.
Lyons continues the integrative art of breaking with modern, ballet and even circus. "We created a circus show ourselves," offers Lyons. "We had a debut in Costa Rica for a hip-hop festival this summer. We closed the fest, and it was quite a surprise for people to see b-boys and b-girls that they had known through the years present a show like this, an urban dance and contemporary circus theater show integrating breaking with modern, intense partner work, and the aerial arts."
Regardless of where he goes from here, all of Lyons' work eventually circles back to his love of breaking. "There is no more creative art form than breaking," he assures. "No form has as much room for creativity and personal growth as breaking does. There are sub-styles of breaking where you have traditionalists, and then at the far opposite end of the spectrum people who integrate everything they can into the dance. Then there's everything in between. The arguing among the styles has led to an amazing array of dancers. The diversity of the b-boy world keeps me in it."
In the words of Rakim in "I Ain't No Joke": Kujo's just an addict addicted to breaking. "I love seeing what new moves people are doing every day," he says. "It's constant. That's why I can't get away from it, and I can't stop doing it. I'm learning when I'm teaching. The process of discovery is never ending, and I don't know if you can say that about many other dance forms."
For more information, visit luxaeternadance.com.