Living the dream: Marc Bamuthi Joseph's world premiere at the Walker


In 1999, it all came together for Marc Bamuthi Joseph. It sounds cliché to say his art started with a dream, but it's nevertheless true.

In this case, the dream is literal rather than figurative. That night the sleeping Joseph – a national poetry slam champion – found his dream-self trying to relate something to his father. “He wouldn't listen to me unless I was dancing,” Joseph remembers.

So he woke up and wrote a piece – and started moving along with it. The piece was called “For Pop.” Ever since, the artist has been experimenting with interdisciplinary work, art that combines theater, dance, spoken word, poetry, music and film.

Marc Bamuthi Joseph in a photo by Umi Vaughan. See more photos by Vaughan and by Ward Rubrecht in the slideshow.

Tonight, his residency at the Walker Art Center culminates with a world premiere of Joseph's latest work, the break/s. A fusion of hip-hop poetry with other artistic elements, the break/s finds Joseph combining his gifts with turntablist DJ Excess and beatboxer Tommy Shepherd a.k.a. Soulati.

Inspired by the globalization of hip-hop culture and Jeff Chang's American Book Award winner Can't Stop Won't Stop, the break/s aims to mix various elements into a unified whole. The performance is intentional about both form and content, bringing hip-hop to the stage in an innovative way. Joseph calls it “a mixtape for the stage.”

The work is as high-concept as it is engaging. Joseph hopes to take the audience on a journey across geography, across time, and through waking space and dreamspace – a metaphorical journey similar to the one he took himself almost 10 years ago. And like hip-hop, which blends disparate elements into distinct new works, Joseph hopes to catch the audience up in the journey.

“This is not Guys and Dolls; it's not meant for people to just sit down and be entertained,” Joseph says. “There is, hopefully, high entertainment value – but it's art meant to engage.”

Marc Bamuthi Joseph's show the break/s premieres tonight, Thursday April 10, at 8 p.m. in the William and Nadine McGuire Theater at the Walker. The work also plays April 11 and 12 at 8 p.m.