Hip-hop has been going strong in France since the 1980s, and the annual Suresnes Cités Danse festival, a three-week feast of urban dance in a western suburb of Paris, celebrated its 20th anniversary in impressive fashion last season. This year it has gone back to basics, with creations big and small on its two stages and a selection of perennial favourites.
Part of the festival’s ethos is to bring together hip-hop and contemporary dance, and this year’s first evening-length work, Karine Saporta’s Tam Taï, fits the bill – although without truly convincing. Saporta, a former National Choreographic Centre director, explores the Asian heritage of seven dancers through a mix of hip-hop and ritual movement; the result was more lip-synced pronouncements and martial arts rudiments than true insight, however.
Suresnes gathered steam with a testosterone-filled second programme. Käfig Brasil is the brainchild of choreographer Mourad Merzouki, building on the success of two works he created with 11 Brazilian dancers by bringing four more choreographers into the mix. The troupe was left with six unrelated dance sections that compete for attention in this one-hour work; their larger-than-life physical charisma smoothed over the dubious transitions. Challenged to work to electro music or rippling contemporary lines, the dancers responded in invigorating fashion. Käfig Brasil was prefaced by Silence ... On Rêve, a dark and powerful short piece choreographed and danced by Fred Bendongué, at his best in the fast, wordless first half.
Meanwhile, on the second stage, the Cités Danse Connexions series resumed its triple bills of small-scale works by young choreographers. The first two programmes were predictably uneven but the second, a quasi-narrative take on popping, had an explosive musicality in its response to throbbing electro music. Few techniques can match such lightning-fast effects, and in the same way that classical ballet once channelled its era’s ideal of harmony in dance and in music, hip-hop offers an uncanny dance expression of today’s pervasive sense of fragmentation.
Delphine Caron opened the first Connexions performance with 4Sounds. The range of styles in this work for five dancers was a joy, from liquid floor work to surreal, freeze-frame visions of modern stress. A former dancer of Caron’s, Farrah Elmaskini, the winner of Suresnes’ hip-hop battle last season, grabbed the attention with a solo that revealed her considerable technique.
The event also welcomed back its original godfather. The idea for the festival, according to director Olivier Meyer, was born on seeing a performance by American choreographer Doug Elkins. A high-profile figure in the 1990s, Elkins is all but unknown to the new generation following the disbanding of his company in 2004. His aesthetic may seem passé, too, with its 1980s references, but this double bill was a treasure trove of exhilarating inventivity. Mo(or)town/Redux takes José Limón’s 1949 choreographic distillation of The Moor’s Pavane, based on Othello, and brings it up to date with pop culture savvy.
The evening concluded with a revival of Elkins’ Scott, Queen of Marys, a 1994 piece created for vogueing pioneer Willi Ninja. Now danced by Javier Ninja, a member of the vogueing “family” created by the originator, the performance was a welcome reminder of a genre and subculture that have mostly slipped from the public consciousness. Elkins spins movement with an easy, witty flow, as Scott bends gender norms with deadpan hip swivels on the men’s side.
A happy blast from the past, and an older brother’s lesson for Suresnes’ emerging artists.
To February 3, suresnescitesdanse2013.com