Raphael Xavier is a 45-year-old self-taught break-dancer, rapper, music producer, comedian, photographer, author and multifaceted artist.
His show, The Unofficial Guide to Audience Watching Performance, which has been on the road since 2010 and came to Lehigh’s Zoellner Arts Center on Feb. 16 and Feb. 19, was a way for him to incorporate all of these passions into one setting.
The show also serves as a sort of autobiography.
“To see where I am, you have to see where I’m from,” Xavier said during the performance.
In the show, Xavier plays a substitute teacher named Mr. Wright and the audience plays the students, thus requiring participation from a hesitant crowd. Xavier asked students to hand in their free-writing assignments on cultural transmission.
“Cultural transmission is the way a group of people in society tend to learn and pass on information,” Xavier said during the performance. “If you forget, just remember dance.”
For Xavier, dance is a way to transmit culture.
Toward the beginning of the show, cast member Jerry Valme handed some audience members disposable cameras.
Later in the performance, those same audience members were taken on a field trip on stage to a museum where they photographed Xavier and Cameron Beckham, another cast member, as they froze in an inverted dance position like statues.
“It was interesting to see the breath and groundness that comes with connecting with the floor,” audience member Keri McGlothlin, ’17, said.
As they exited the museum, one audience member snapped a selfie on his camera.
In the performance, Mr. Wright shows his students his life over the past 30 years, starting as a teenager. He takes time to show them different dance moves, even slowing each part down and taking it apart.
Xavier also explained that in his own life, as a teenager, if students were caught break dancing, they were expelled.
“It was an excitingly strange kind of fear,” he said.
At a Q&A with the audience after the show, Xavier spoke about how he wanted to make break dancing more accessible by making dance patterns safer.
“It hurts if you’re standing up and fall,” Xavier said. “It doesn’t hurt if you’re already on the floor.”
Valme said that Xavier makes movement very simple.
Xavier also said there is no message in The Unofficial Guide.
“I stopped trying to get things across to people,” Xavier said. “With this show, it’s just ‘Keep doing what you’re doing.’”
Breaking was popular in 1982 and 1983, but according to Xavier, it was gone by 1985. At that time, there were no schools for brea dancing — if someone wanted to learn, they had to teach themselves.
“You just saw it and did it,” Xavier said, regarding his ability to teach himself. People learned by seeing different people dance and then practicing it themselves.
According to the Zoellner box office, about 65 people attended the show on Tuesday afternoon.