Baroque breakdancing in Berlin

Gramophone23rd Apr 2010
Baroque meets breakdance in Berlin (Photo: RayDemski.com/Red Bull Photofiles)Baroque meets breakdance in Berlin (Photo: RayDemski.com/Red Bull Photofiles)

Amid the myriad cross-genre exercises that crop up on the cultural horizon here, few are as successful and thrilling as Flying Bach, an unexpected meeting of baroque music and hip-hop dancing.

Performed in the pavilion of Mies van der Rohe’s striking Neue Nationalgalerie, the 70-minute show sets the first book of the Well-Tempered Clavier to choreography by the renowned break dance troupe The Flying Steps. During the course of the evening, Bach’s 24 preludes and fugues are performed alternately on piano, cembalo and an electronic remix.

Since opening on April 13, the show’s run through to the end of the month has quickly sold out. (Additional performances have been added from May 15–17 and returns may be available at the box office).

It’s not surprising, considering how exhilarating this show is.

The two dozen short pieces that make up the Well-Tempered Clavier turn out to be perfectly-suited to the intense and at-times battle-like displays of virtuosity that the Flying Steps performers have devised. The result is a cross-pollination that highlights unlikely connections between Baroque music and hip-hop dance traditions.

Bach’s contrapuntal complexity is very much at home with the rapid and often-confrontational dance moves. Like Baroque music, breakdance is highly controlled and disciplined, yet allows for varied individual displays of virtuoso and bravura. The full-body dance combinations that are primary to break dance – many of them borrowed from gymnastics and martial art, including handstands, headstands and freezes – combine with the shape-shifting music to create an intense and visceral performance.

The windmill, an impressive power move where the dancer rolls his torso continuously on the floor as his legs twirl in a V shape in the air, was an effective illustration of Bach’s arpeggiated chords and sequences. And in the fugues, various groupings of dancers illustrated the multiple voices with both precision and spontaneity.

Christoph Hagel, Flying Bach’s musical director, is well-known in Berlin for his unorthodox musical outings, which in the past have included operas staged in circuses, discos and even an U-Bahn station.

“The dream is: Bach as street art and break dance as Kunst,” Hagel explains in an online promotional video spot. “For the past 10 years,” he continues, “it has been my goal to call holy art into the today’s global world. Perhaps never before as radically as with this project.”

A J Goldmann

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