By Celia Wren
Sibling rivalry must not be a problem for performer/choreographer Paige Hernandez and her brother, hip-hop artist Nick tha 1da. If it were, the duo would surely have had trouble concocting “Paige in Full,” the intelligent and watchable dance-theater piece that the Hegira company is presenting at Flashpoint’s Mead Theatre Lab.
Sister and brother share a tiny stage in the hour-long production, Hernandez’s chronicle of growing up with a mixed-race identity. As she chats to the audience and executes urban-cool hoofin’ routines, and he generates beats and sampling at a table behind her, their mutual respect reverberates in sync with their enthusiasm for hip-hop.
A native of Baltimore, the engaging Hernandez has been building a D.C. area track record in recent years: She did a zesty acting turn in Imagination Stage’s 2009 “Zomo the Rabbit,” for instance, and the musical “Knuffle Bunny,” now at the Kennedy Center, showcases her inventive choreography. “Paige in Full” (the title puns on “Paid in Full,” the 1987 release by Eric B. & Rakim) provides a glimpse behind the playbill bios, telling of her childhood passion for dance and music and musing wryly on the confusion her hybrid ethnicity (her heritage is African American, Chinese and Cuban) seems to provoke in a society that likes to pigeonhole.
Directed by Hegira founder Danielle A. Drakes, with dramaturgy by Bryan Joseph Lee, the show spins out in front of Jamie Yellen’s tiny but evocative set: a graffiti-decorated brick wall (behind Nick tha 1da’s control-panel-heaped table) and a chain-link fence where a pair of high-tops dangle. There’s also a screen for Tewodross Melchishua’s videos and projections, which include, in the show’s first moments, swirling images of galaxies and silhouettes of animated figures.
Like that montage, Hernandez’s script is often pleasingly oblique. Instead of plodding through a linear autobiography, she arranges many memories thematically, funneling them through playful conceits. Dressed in a patterned sweat shirt, leggings and sneakers, she mockingly impersonates the schoolmates who bullied her for her independence and exotic looks. Then she’s declaiming “Baltimore Haiku”: a portrait of Charm City in the pithy verse format. Later, with the help of projections, the saga of her failed romances takes the form of a TV quiz show titled “What You Say When You’re Young, Dumb and in Love.”
Hernandez also channels some memories and reflections into choreography. In one section that ponders her ethnic heritage, this vibrant dancer shifts from breakin’ to a rumba-flavored shimmy to a stylized fan dance. At another point, she gestures with balletic grace, scoffing at an invisible critic who seems to question her African American credentials, “Let me show my Ailey moves while I quote Spike Lee movies.”
Such pointed moments will prompt theatergoers to ruminate a little about identity politics and the molding of the self in a multicultural world. Chiefly, though, “Paige in Full” will leave audiences hoping more work by Hernandez — and Nick tha 1da, too — comes along soon.