Underground Movement

Local hip-hop troupe Nebellen makes a break for the big time

Howe and Rath salsa like old pros, and he lowers her into a dip that won't die; she bends farther and farther back, eventually crawling through the other side of his legs.

The studio is a blur of laughter and movement. Class has given way to chaos. Such is Nebellen's creative process.

Nebellen gets no more than a sniff from Ib Andersen, Rath's boss at Ballet Arizona.

Nebellen's founders and co-artistic directors, Ben Howe and Ellen Rath.
Nebellen's founders and co-artistic directors, Ben Howe and Ellen Rath.
Flipping for Nebellen: Robert Lopez and Antonio Berumen.
Flipping for Nebellen: Robert Lopez and Antonio Berumen.

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Photography by Jeff Newton

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Andersen saw Nebellen's 2003 summer showcase and believes that Rath brings a discernible ballet influence to the troupe. He also believes that hip-hop, as an art form, leaves a lot to be desired.

"It's a very limited vocabulary," Andersen says. "And if it's going to be something you can actually watch with interest for a whole evening . . . if it's going to survive as an art form, it will need to evolve quite a bit more.

"I've also seen the real thing in hip-hop," he continues. "And this ain't the real thing.

"It's not inventive."

Helena Saraydarian disagrees. A dance teacher and choreographer, she saw The First Nebellen and invited the troupe to perform in the next Celebration of Dance, the annual showcase of the Valley's best movers. For each of the last three years, she has cast Nebellen in the closing slot -- and this year, Saraydarian, who produces the show, had more than 90 pieces to choose from.

Saraydarian hails from Los Angeles, where she worked in the dance industry for two decades; for 10 years, she taught hip-hop and choreographed music videos.

"I've only been in Arizona 10 years, so I don't want to insult the dance community . . . but I think it's about time that we get something fresh, and I think Nebellen breaks the barriers.

"They're doing all the latest things. And they're innovative, and they're artistic.

"And they're reaching people who might not normally see dance. Why not create interest among a new generation?"

Rath knows that Nebellen doesn't have a fan in Andersen. "It's not his thing," she says. "He really thinks dance should be to classical music."

Andersen's reaction to The Fourth Nebellen? "He hated the music," Rath says. "He hated the lighting. And that was about all he had to say."

"I think it's great that she's doing it, what can I say?" Andersen counters. "And obviously, there's a following. A very young following.

"And who knows where it will go? She's very young."

E-mail jill.koch@newtimes.com

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