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January 22, 2014 6:00 pm
It takes time for a new dance genre to develop an institutional presence. Thirty years after its popularity soared in France, hip-hop is at the tail-end of that process, with two prominent choreographers (Kader Attou and Mourad Merzouki) at the helm of National Choreographic Centres. In its 22 years of existence, the Suresnes Cités Danse festival in suburban Paris has been a precious platform for that generation, and the current edition is one of confident maturity, with the right balance of education and creation.
Italian choreographer Laura Scozzi returned to the world of fairytales to open the festival with Barbe-Neige et les Sept Petits Cochons au bois dormant (Snow Beard and the Seven Little Sleeping Pigs). She gave Suresnes a shorter parody in 2011, and this evening-length creation is an excellent sequel. In naively colourful sets and costumes, a series of spoofs poke fun at the gender or race clichés that are standard fairytale fare. Seven male and female Snow Whites wield axes; a black fairy struggles with her magic wand; Cinderella leaves trainers behind while Sleeping Beauty wakes up to a series of unwanted Princes, all to a lively Paganini score.
The children in the audience were vocal with their approval, but Barbe-Neige also features a few gems for adults, including a drily ironic crooner turn for Bluebeard and three of his victims. The choreography serves the narrative in bright fashion with its blend of hip-hop and mime; the final scenes are slightly overcooked, but it is a smart, modern show, one that young audiences need to see.
Meanwhile, the Cités Danse Connexions series opened on the smaller second stage with similar energy. Céline Lefèvre, one of the dancers in Barbe-Neige, returned with Ma Leçon de hip-hop, a witty beginner’s guide to the genre originally choreographed by Sylvain Groud for the 20th anniversary of Suresnes in 2011. Lefèvre takes us through the history of hip-hop with the aplomb of a stand-up comedian, from the basic six-step of breakdancing to the electric boogaloo, jacking and vogueing, demonstrating every style with infectious energy. Like Scozzi’s work, Ma Leçon has been expanded and fine-tuned since 2011, and it is to the festival’s immense credit that it nurtures such works over the long term.
Two short creations followed. Mélanie Sulmona’s Urban Beings is predictable in its exploration of individual and group but provides beautiful moments of stillness when its three dancers’ popping and pulling from each other grows into organic contact dance. More original was John Degois’ solo Ma Nuit américaine, a whimsical take on François Truffaut’s film-within-a-film in La Nuit américaine (Day for Night). Playing a choreographer looking for funds to create his second work, Degois writes application letters while listening to “Just a Gigolo” and is grunted at by imaginary producers; his clownish, self-deprecating turn is paced to perfection.
Hip-hop pioneer Kader Attou, who is currently based in La Rochelle, returned to the main stage the next night with his latest creation, The Roots. A striking homage to hip-hop itself, it shows how far the genre has come as a theatrical art form. Not unlike Mats Ek’s Appartement, it starts with a man alone in his armchair with a record player, and spins choreography out of mundane memories. The sets, by Olivier Borne, seem to set the action in an imaginary mental map; Attou plays with texture in gorgeous, musical slow-motion sequences, and while his 11 dancers give the measure of their technical mastery throughout, their effortless delivery allows emotion to come to the fore. Another feather in the genre’s cap, and a production that deserves to be seen on bigger stages, too.
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