It's never a good sign when show organizers keep stressing a group is their second choice for a performance. White Bird founders Paul King and Walter Jaffe were gracious in their introduction Thursday night, but you could tell they were disappointed that their planned performers, the dancers of Abou Lagraa, ran into visa issues coming from Algeria.

The replacement, Illstyle & Peace Productions, performs along the same rough lines of hip-hop, but it’s certainly no contemporary Algerian ballet. The style of this Philadelphia group is quintessential American hip-hop: raw and unbridled, if at times dated and unpolished.

At their strongest, dancers manage to recreate the rowdy atmosphere of a street performance, sending one or more dancers into the spotlight while others hang back, casually moving to the beat. The breaking segments, and especially the partnering stunts, are the most impressive parts of the show. The shortest dancer spends most of the finale being tossed around, lifted onto others’ shoulders and flipped in various ways. The dancers also show off their personalities, making exaggerated facial expressions and recreating fanciful tableaus like that in Washington Crossing the Delaware.

Other parts of the show are confusing and even languid for hip-hop. When in formation, the dancers’ movements are seldom sharp and in-sync, and transitions between formations are often gradual instead of explosive. The soundtrack doesn’t help, relying on sleepy jams by the likes of Common and Earth, Wind & Fire. The tempo picks up in the second act, but the creative direction grows more aimless. “Thriller” begins, only to be cut short by the entrance of dancers wearing masks that recall the Insane Clown Posse. A theatrical solo piece to Kanye West’s “Say You Will” has the dancer reading a distressing letter, going into fits and eventually overdosing on heroin.

Illstyle is generally known for its positivity, avoiding themes that promote violence, sex and drugs. But at times, particularly with the flickering words of inspiration projected onto the backdrop, the show feels a bit like an after-school special. Obvious religious references take the preachiness over the top.

Illstyle is nothing if not spirited, and the group incessantly encouraged the audience to throw back cheers of support. The finale had the performers coaxing laced-up audience members to squeak out timid call-and-return chants of “Whoop, whoop!” By the end, the standing ovation was immediate and explosive, even for polite Portland. But from where I sat, it felt like an obligation.

SEE IT: Illstyle & Peace Productions is at Portland State University's Lincoln Hall, 1620 SW Park Ave., 245-1600. 8 pm Friday-Saturday, March 21-23. $20-$30. Tickets here.