Urban Dance Culture
The story of the development in Germany
Niels Robitzky, aka Storm, writes about the establishment of urban dance art in Germany - in which he and his crew “Battle Squad” have played a formative role.
The story of the development of urban dance in Germany cannot be told within the national borders since hip-hop has always been multicultural. The story is best recounted by looking at the artists and institutions that emerged and established themselves in the early 1980s. I have been active myself in the scene for over thirty years, and it is thus inevitable that in this overview I should also tell part of my own story.
Kai Eickermann with TDB and “Storm” with Battle SquadWhile French dance companies such as Black blanc beur were already performing in theatres in Germany with a mixture of hip-hop and African and Caribbean dances, the few professional German groups mostly had only the possibility of appearing in vaudeville shows, clubs and at galas. Among these were Kai Eickermann with his group TDB and myself, “Storm”, with my crew Battle Squad. Kai and I were also both there when, from the mid ‘80s, the Deutsche Oper Berlin produced a version of the opera Margarethe in which we breakers played the creatures from Hell and seized the baby from Faust. At that time we were the only hip-hop dancers who could make a living from their art. While Kai developed further in the direction of vaudeville and comedy, I turned to the contemporary stage. At the beginning of the 1990s, many scene events developed, like for example the Battle of the Year, which has meanwhile become one of the biggest b-boy championships in the world. For us “battle” means a competition in dance. Here creative developments and technical improvements are demonstrated. Since 2000, Battle of the Year has been filling huge arenas and its venue is now the Volkswagen Hall in Braunschweig. By taking part in this competition many groups became world famous and launched their careers after winning here. My group Battle Squad won in 1991 and 1992. In that same year,1992, I went to New York and became part of the formation Ghettoriginal, the first dance-theatre company from the world of hip-hop.
Dirk Korell, Yacine Damblard – Sebastien Ramirez and Hyun-Jung “Honji” Wang – Raphael HillebrandDirk Korell, who has made a considerable contribution to the establishment of the urban theatre scene in Germany, operates from France. In St. Denis he founded the society Moov n´Aktion together with his partner Yacine Damblard and organised the annual Franco-German Festival Danse Hip-Hop Tanz. For many years Korell and Damblard took over the management of many German hip-hop dancers and choreographers and implemented a regular exchange with French artists. In 2010, Korell opened the production office Camin Aktion in Montpellier and helped the successful duo Sebastien Ramirez and Hyun-Jung “Honji” Wang in various productions. Ramirez, who was born in Perpignan, produced with Raphael Hillebrand from Berlin the duo Seul Ensemble / Gemeinsam einsam in 2007, and since this co-operation he has been living in Berlin with his partner “Honji”. Their production AP15 won the Bessie Award for Outstanding Performance in 2013.
Flying StepsThe winners of the Battle of the Year 2000, the Flying Steps from Berlin, also made their theatre debut thanks to promotion by Dirk’s Moov N´Aktion. A soft-drink manufacturer sponsored them with the project Red Bull Flying Bach and brought the crew together with the opera director Christoph Hagel. There emerged a mixture of various compositions by Johann Sebastian Bach, some of which were played live on the piano and the cembalo, but also some that came from the band and were reinforced with hard rhythms. This particular compilation of music was interpreted in dance by the Flying Steps. As performance venues only “temples of art” renowned for highbrow culture were selected in order to underline the contrast to the urban style. In 2010, Red Bull Flying Bach was awarded the Echo Klassik Sonderpreis. For their new large-format production “Red Bull Flying Illusion“ (2014) several international dance stars have joined the cast.
Kadir “Amigo” Memis and Takao BabaOne of the founding members of the Flying Steps, Kadir “Amigo” Memis, has a strong connection to his Turkish cultural background. He was already working on several dance- theatre projects that reflect this personal interest. In ZeyBreak he accessed a tradition from his rural Anatolian homeland, the dance Zeybek, which contrasts with his urban Berlin hip-hop home. While Memis seems to give pride of place to the folklore of his Turkish heritage in most of his stage performances, nevertheless many of his engagements are very connected to the urban dance scene. With his partner Takao Baba he created the event group and online platform Dance Unity that organises and implements the international dance championship Funkin’ Styles. Memis’ creations, together with many other productions by Berlin choreographs from the hip-hop sphere, are usually presented in Berlin in the Hebbel am Ufer theatre, where many regional qualifiers for events such as Dance Delight and Juste Debout are held once a year.
Hip-Hop Academy HamburgIn Germany’s second largest city there is the Hip-Hop Academy Hamburg. This sees its main task in youth work. Since 2009, however, it has also developed an ensemble of professional artists, and every year it invites various choreographers from different spheres to cooperate with them. They have been working with the Uppercut danseteater from Copenhagen since 2012. The Danse Kapellet – as they also call themselves – and the Hip-Hop Academy worked together on the collaborative projects State of mind and Responsability. The teachers at the Academy have always regarded themselves as crossover artists between various cultures. The Academy organises an annual event at Kampnagel where all current productions are shown.
Ruhrpottbattle and Pottporus Festival in HerneAnother institution that like Battle of the Year developed from the idea of organising dance championships is the Pottporus Festival in Herne. Beginning with the Ruhrpottbattle, Zekai Fenerci created a unique forum in the Ruhr region. The Pottporus is firmly attached to the Renegade Theater. Zekai Fenerci, Lorca Renoux and Marcus Michalowski founded Renegade in order to realise free dance theatre productions with international partners. It has produced, for example, Irgendwo, a choreography by Malou Airaudo, and Extended teenage era by Samir Akika. The hallmark of Renegade productions is the combination of various dance styles, all equally represented, and the influence of the artistic elements of street art. From the urban scene it is mainly dancers who have years of experience and are well known in that scene who perform here. For example, Christian “Robozee” Zacharas from the Formation Animatronik and Denis “Koone” Kuhnert from the Funk Fellas have appeared in several productions.
Christian “Robozee” Zacharas and Denis “Koone” KuhnertIt is worth taking a closer look at these two personalities: like the others, “Koone” can also be mentioned in connection with several contemporary directors and choreographers. From 2008 he worked for five years with Constanza Makras. In 2009, he produced his first own work What happens after, a sombre love story. These days he tours with Akhram Khan. Christian “Robozee” now dances with the Flying Steps and is also a member of the Ensemble Animatronik.
Raphael Hillebrand, Christian “Prince Mio” Loclair and “Storm”Here we come full circle again - since also from Animatronik are the Berliners Raphael Hillebrand, Christian “Prince Mio” Loclair and myself. Our artists’ group has selected the special field of illusionary dance as its primary working sphere. Starting out with the duo Reflection vby “Robozee” and “Mio” in 2006, productions such as 110 followed, co-produced by Moov´N Aktion, and viral videos that point in new directions and document experiments. “Prince Mio” calls his special field Dance Media Art, he programmes interactive video projections and is exploring Kinect calibration methods. Raphael Hillebrand produced his solo Three brothers in 2012 and performed it at various theatres in Germany, for instance in Freiburg’s Stadttheater in 2012.
Dialogic Movement and Break AnatomyIn 2006, Hillebrand and I developed the stage format Dialogic Movement. ”. With various guests and in talks and performative excerpts, we examine outstanding concepts, future-oriented styles and the connecting features of contemporary urban cultures. We want to form an interface where urban and contemporary dance can grow together more easily and are able to offer each other mutual support in their diverse developments.
These days there is a notable tendency for urban dance art to be taught at universities. Sebastian Kim “Jaekone” Youngung from Cologne from the b-boy group Reckless Crew has created - in addition to his own theatre productions in which he also performed - an exceptional event known as Break Anatomy. This was initiated at the Institut für Tanz und Bewegungskultur (Institute for Dance and Movement Culture) at the German Sport University in Cologne. The aim of the programme is to implement high-quality further education in the urban dance scene. To achieve this there are intensive seminars and a very good network of creative artists from the scene. Under the quality control of the universities, the dance and culture-specific knowledge of the participants, the defining of an individual dance technique and also didactic competences are developed and honed.