Hip-hop and Classical Dance – No Contradiction!
Hip-hop proved long ago that it has no need to fear artistic comparison with other dance genres. Storm, a German dancer, is one of France’s most popular breakers, while the Algerian Samir Akika graduated from the Folkwang Academy in Essen before turning to hip-hop. These two dancers show that breakdance can enter into dialogue with film, theatre, classical dance and ballet.
Anyone who still thinks that dancing hip-hop consists of head-spinning as fast as possible and for as long as possible is welcome to change their mind. And to do so at least as quickly as arms and legs can fly in breakdance. Where does hip-hop stand today? Of course, the b boys still stage their battles to find out who is the most agile and skilful. But in parallel, a choreographic scene with a creativity and artistic quality that are constantly developing has existed for more than two decades, particularly in France.
France discovered breakdance in 1984. For fifteen years, dance companies fought bitterly for recognition and support. It was a tough struggle, but in the end they were successful. Since last year, two choreographers have been managing two national choreographic centres - Kader Attou the Accrorap Company in La Rochelle and Mourad Merzouki the Käfig Company in Créteil near Paris. Other companies, such as the world-famous Black Blanc Beur, remain independent, training new generations of dancers and providing an equally important impetus to the genre’s development.
In contrast, it is significantly more difficult for hip-hop companies to gain a foothold in the German dance scene, which has an entirely different structure. France offers independent companies a much denser network of funding and performance opportunities, giving them the freedom to become acquainted with other artistic worlds. And these not only include circus, jazz and mime, but also – who would have thought it? – ballet. Current and former Paris Opera stars such as Marie-Agnès Gillot, Yann Bridard and Raphaëlle Delaunay have created exciting choreographies for hip-hop dancers. Indeed, breakers enjoy a significantly higher reputation in the world of ballet than contemporary ballet dancers. Breakers are now returning the favour. Storm, for example, breakdances to Bizet and the dancers of the Bordeaux-based dance company Rêvolution took ballet lessons for three years for Urban Ballet.
Samir Akika is another example of how mobile hip-hop makes you. The native Algerian really should have ended up in the French hip-hop scene. Instead he changed track, studying at the Folkwang Academy in Essen and later dancing for Pina Bausch’s company. And Storm, whose real name is Niels Robitzky, published his autobiography back in 2000 (Von Swipe zu Storm – Breakdance in Deutschland), outlining his path from the beginnings. It led him from a small town to world-class dance, from northern Germany to New York, then still the undisputed Mecca of hip-hop. The dominance of American b-boys has now been broken and the exchange between Europe and the USA is no longer as intensive as it was just ten years ago.
Instead, institutions have given hip-hop new impetus. The Suresnes Cités Danse festival in the west of Paris was established in 1993 and the first three times it was held it presented the most important US companies. Storm flew over from New York with them. From 1996 onwards, the festival’s director Oliver Meyer changed its focus, giving choreographers from the field of contemporary dance a free hand to experiment with hip-hop dancers. As a result, theatrical, abstract and multicultural works have always been created in Suresnes.
Storm takes Paris by storm
Storm, too, was increasingly drawn to Paris from 2000 onwards, taking new ideas and concepts with him. In 2001, he performed in Suresnes again, this time Solo for Two, a ground-breaking creation in which the clever use of video technology succeeded in making the solo an urban pas de deux between the pictures and the stage in the middle of the frenzied metropolis of Berlin. Five years on, he refined the humour of his mime in another solo, Virtuelevation, about the cosmic meanderings of a pizza chef.
As well as his qualities as a dancer, both solos revealed a new choréauteur à la Serge Lifar. What is more, the dancer who once regarded the world outside hip-hop with suspicion has become a laid-back humorist. So much so that his latest solo, Storm in classical context, has taken on a dimension previously unthinkable in hip-hop – self-irony. He waddles stiltedly onto stage, unpacks his black vinyl discs and puts classic hits by Grieg or Bizet onto his old turntable. For Storm, Carmen was a discovery, and that is precisely the feeling he gets across when he whirls across the floor to the music. But then he pauses, panting! For the first time ever, a breaker admits to being short-winded, and in so doing makes the ultimate statement that he and hip-hop have come of age.
Ahead of the critics
The new generation is growing up in a completely different context. Samir Akika leans towards dance theatre and can set out from the idea of interdisciplinary work, while Storm, Attou and Merzouki had to put in a great deal of effort to develop such concepts. Yet they were always years ahead of the critics. While in France, they have asserted themselves as creators of Gesamtkunst (total works of art), the German attitude to hip-hop still seems to be to look for the spectacular. Audiences are still enticed to come to see Akika by metaphors such as dynamic pirouettes, backward saltos and the fight for survival. At least acrobatics has become a metaphor for the encounter between breakdance and classical dance. The aim is to cross the boundaries between theatre, film and dance. In Akika’s piece Extended Teenage Era, Schubert can be heard alongside Bob Marley and in Crayfish, Akika presents hip-hop as a lifestyle on the established theatre stage.
has been living in Paris for twenty years, is the France correspondent of the journal ballet-tanz and also works for the French culture journals Danser, Cassandre and Stradda.
Translation: Eileen Flügel
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Online-Redaktion
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