Breakdancing and Bach Blend for Bombastic Performance

flyingbach1When you think of J.S. Bach, you probably wouldn’t imagine a troupe of breakdancers dancing to his music. But that unlikely combination is exactly what audiences got to witness at the Red Bull Flying Bach performances this past weekend at the Civic Opera House. Contrapuntist and I attended the Sunday, June 22 performance, and  the bombastic blend of breakdancing and Baroque music exceeded our expectations.

The unusual collaboration began in 2009 when German pianist and opera director Christoph Hagel saw a performance by the award-winning Flying Steps breakdancing troupe. After meeting them, Hagel learned that the Flying Steps had been thinking of creating a show featuring classical music. Hagel studied their moves and determined that Bach’s The Well Tempered Clavier would be the perfect counterpoint for the dancers’ virtuosity, sharp style.

Hagel went on to collaborate with the Flying Steps’ lead choreographer and founder, German-Lebanese b-boy Vartan Bassil. The ensemble carefully studied the music and created dance moves that represented every voice of the counterpoint. Hagel and Bassil also brought in the classically trained dancer Yui Kawaguchi to choreograph a part for a ballet-trained female dancer to form a bridge between the disparate styles of music and dance.

The result is a 70-minute production about an ensemble of breakdancers and the mysterious ballet dancer (played by the Swedish dancer Anna Holmstrom) who sneaks in to watch and eventually tries to join their rehearsal.  After an initial culture clash, a hint of romance, and a generous sprinkling of humor, the female dancer and the b-boys join together in a unique style of urban dance.

I have to admit that I entered this show as a skeptic. I’ve been to other performances that blended urban dance with classical music, and the results have been decidedly mixed. But as soon as the Flying Steps hit the stage, my skepticism evaporated. Their movements brought a whole new dimension to the kinetic energy and melodic nuances of the music. I was particularly impressed by the rapid cascading sequences send during which a guy would spin on his head, thrust his fists, and pump his legs in the air for what seemed like an impossible length of time.

Beyond the fantastic choreography, I was also blown away by the breakdancers’ talent. There’s a reason that they’re called the Flying Steps. When they spin on their wrists, bounce onto their backs, and perform movements upside down on their heads that most people wouldn’t be able to do right side up, the dancers really do appear to fly in the face of gravity.

As for Anna Holmstrom, her ability to switch between classical style and urban moves allowed her to stand out against her seven breakdancing companions.

The live musical accompaniment alternates between a pianist on one side of the stage and a harpsichordist on the other. Christoph Hagel performed the piano portion flawlessly. The harpsichordist – the program listed two names, so I wasn’t sure who was performing that afternoon – had a few clunkers. The live music was interspersed with electronic dance arrangements of Bach’s music. I wouldn’t necessarily listen to this music on its own, but it fit well with the performance.

I’d highly recommend attending one of this show’s three remaining performances at the Civic Opera House on June 27 at 7:30 p.m., June 28 at 7:30 p.m., and June 29 at 2:00 p.m. Complete information and tickets are available here.

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