Illuminated Manuscript @ Ford Theatres

(Courtesy of Paul Antico/
(Courtesy of Paul Antico/

The Epic of Gilgamesh is perhaps the world’s oldest surviving work of literature. Achilles, Odysseus, Samson, Beowulf, Cú Chulainn, Hercules all have root in the labors of the god King of Uruk. The Sumerian epic poem itself was the source for the Old Testament’s tales of Noah’s flood and the story of Enkidu, who is formed from a clump of clay by the god of creation, forced to leave his blissful natural existence, and dies when the plant of immortality is stolen from him by a snake. This provided the foundation for the first book of the Hebrew Torah, “Bereshit” or Genesis.

Hip hop is a multi-disciplined American art form spawned from the culture cauldron found in the back streets of the South Bronx and drawing inspiration from rap, Russian folk dance, soul music, California Funk, R&B and Bruce Lee films, to become a musical free form mode of self-expression and a creative pandemic with youth world wide.

It is somehow fitting that the most primitive narrative of our past should find such a perfect fusion in the rawness of hip hop. The aims of the Sumerian hero and those of the street corner “b-boys” and their artistic counterparts, the urban graffitists, are the same: a search for immortality. Whether by defeating the monster Humbaba or smacking down another power mover, the desire is to have your fame live on.

Guided by artistic director and choreographer Amy “Catfox” Campion, the dancers of Antics have taken the 4,000 year old tale of Gilgamesh’s transformation from a vain and capricious king, into a man who comes to face the suffering and horror of existence but is unbowed by the knowledge, and flipped it into a potent restatement assessable to modern sensibilities while retaining its timelessness and heroic dimensions.

With excerpts from the cuneiform inscribed clay tablets, which told the ancient tale written across the stage in bold rescreen projections by graffitist Gilyon “Gillatine” Brace-Wessel, who also fills the role of Gilgamesh, we are introduced to the tale of the two-third god king who so terrorizes his people that the earth goddess Aruru (Lisa Kapchinske) fashions a warrior from clay to do battle against him. Enkidu, rendered with beast like prowess by John “Random1” Molina, seeks out Gilgamesh and the two do battle “power mover” style striking out with headspins, hand glides and windmills. When neither proves capable of defeating the other, respect becomes a bond of brotherhood and the two set off on a journey threading their way to slay the monster Humbaba (Amida “Shofu the Beatdown” Shofu).

As all such journeys must be, this one is filled with danger and foes, out to prevent the two warriors from achieving their goals as well as allies aiding them in their undertaking. There are gods and goddesses to comfort them. Shamash the Sun god, a dynamic Curtis “Creez” Jones and Campion herself as Ishtar the all powerful Sumerian deity goddess of love, sex and war who would find herself sanitized and renamed in the Old Testament as Esther.

There are creatures to be overcome like the mighty Bull of Heaven (Kirlew “Bliss” Vilbon pounding the stage with an avalanche of “Wow”) and the scorpion men (Vilbon again with James “Jae Boogie” Datu).

Campion and the Antics Company exhibit artistry and imagination in incorporating all styles and flavors of this uniquely American dance form in a dazzling demonstration of how slim a distance 4,000 years can be when the tale told is of humanity.