If it’s true that art mirrors life, then art ought to be messy, in Blu’s opinion. Blu, the resident choreographer at Creative Performing Arts Center in Reno, hails from Brooklyn, N.Y., where the daily struggles of life amid crime and poverty have infused his work.
“The unpredictable happens,” he says. “It’s not safe. That’s what I try to show in my work.” That’s the idea behind the upcoming CPAC dance production, Definitions, for which he is artistic director and choreographer.
Born Jason Griffiths, the name “Blu” stuck after years of showing his intensity in ballet classes, for which he was teased for being “sad and blue.”
His dance career is certainly nothing to feel blue about. He attended New York’s Fiorella H. LaGuardia High School for Music & Art and Performing Arts, as well as New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. He received professional training from Feld Ballet, Boston Ballet, Dance Theater of Harlem, Danceworks Dance Center and Ballet Hispanico. He’s toured with Jay-Z, R. Kelly, the Roots, Busta Rhymes and Ja Rule, and he currently appears in a national K-Swiss commercial.
Why Reno? Two words: a girl. While on tour with Ja Rule, Blu fell in love during a Reno Spring Jam appearance. The two are currently expecting their second child. Since June 2004, he’s been CPAC’s resident choreographer. He teaches classes and leads In Theory, the lyrical dance company, which is performing Definitions in its debut concert.
As a New Yorker dressed in baggy jeans and a do-rag, Blu often struggles to overcome the predetermined definitions others have of him. This production lets him play with that idea. Each dance in Definitions begins with a reading of an inspirational quote or definition. The dance then interprets that definition. For example, in one piece, the quote reflects upon the meaning of “potential.” The dancer, a CPAC apprentice, is still learning and is still imperfect. How he gains strength and overcomes that adversity determines his real potential.
In another piece, dancers perform acrobatic moves on top of a canvas and with open cups of paint in their hands. The result is an original piece of artwork that can never be duplicated. It may be messy, but that’s art.
“I don’t expect that the audience will like everything they see here,” says Blu. “What I want is that even if you don’t like it, that you walk away talking about it. Because if I’ve touched you somehow, I’ve succeeded.”
None of the dancers are classically trained, but they’re brimming with raw talent and a desire to dance outside the box. Their confidence allows them to push limits, even if they’re not “safe.” During rehearsals, Blu encourages them to get creative and play with moves; he even takes cues from them. At one point, a student suggests speeding up a piece of music, which completely changes and improves the dance.
But he’s not hesitant to push them, either, and that’s caused some culture shock for both him and his dancers. “In New York, people are honest. If they don’t like you, they’ll tell you, ‘You need to just get your stuff and go home,'” he says laughing. “I push my students because I respect them. And they see me in videos and commercials and stuff, and it pushes them because they know I know what I’m talking about.”