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Screen + Sound + Stage
November 08, 2014

The Ballet of Hip-Hop

Text by Nittal Chandarana

The Park’s New Festival gave us an evening of surreal dancing by UK-based troupe, Avant Garde

At the recently concluded The Park New Festival, a UK-based performance group, Avant Garde, performed their choreography piece, The Black Album mixing hip-hop with freestyle and ballet at the NCPA. We’d seen a ballet dancer try her hand at hip-hop before, but mixing both styles? We were pleasantly surprised to see a tasteful combination of both. Exuding swag on a classical piece of music can’t be easy but they managed effortlessly. In fact, those beautiful melodies of yore seemed to go perfectly with this modern style of dance. A ballerina arabesqued and pirouetted her way across the stage and seemed to be stuck in a dilemma. To point or to flex? That is the question on every new-age performer’s lips. When you’re mixing classical with contemporary, can you really stay true to both? The dancers chose a fitting name for themselves, for they truly experimented with dance style and blended choreographies to present something that was abstract and original. Of course NCPA’s brilliant lighting escalated the quality of performance manifold. What we loved: There was a segment after the first piece wherein they vied for applause. It revealed a cheeky, humorous side to all the serious dancing that had just happened and we loved this tongue-in-cheek manner of asking for cheers. Touted as a ‘triple-bill in which three distinctly different hip-hop choreographies are woven together’, The Black Album was a unique, edgy and dynamic piece of performance. Here’s Founder and Artistic Director Tony Adigun of Avant Garde telling us about their dance style, ideology and stage time:

Tell us a little about your company and manner of performance.
Avant Garde is not just a company, it is a way of life for us. We are always striving to push the boundaries of hip-hop and contemporary dance. Our mantra is ‘Innovate Never Replicate’ which is evident throughout our portfolio of work. We are committed to producing artistic work that is entertaining for our audiences and challenge our limits. Our performances are dynamic and have musicality at their core. At our core is hip-hop dance, which deliver in a contemporary package.

Where did the idea of mixing hip-hop with contemporary come from?
The idea of mixing hip-hop with contemporary came from music. Music is my major influence. I am constantly listening to music, spanning genres cultures and sounds. I usually work with beats, finding the musicality and quality of the sound, which then forms the choreography. I am also intrigued by a sense of difference and rebellion against what other people think is normal and as a Company we celebrate individuality and uniqueness.

Tell us a little about your process of choreography.
We work in collaboration to bring the best out of everyone’s creative potential and experience. It also depends on the show. It can take us anywhere between 1 day to 1 year to make a piece, depending on the length of course. Some shows have been thought about for years before getting into the studio. I encourage the dancers to bring their own style and personality to the rehearsal room and stage. This opens the opportunity for many possible interpretations and relationships, which means there are no rules and no limits to what we can create and this can at times lengthen the process.

What is The Black Album inspired by?
The Black Album is inspired with the idea of a concept album, in which three distinctly different choreographies are seamlessly woven together. Set in what could either be a club, bedroom or one’s imagination, we take the audience on a soulful journey through Jazzanova to Mozart, Woodkid to Trentemoller, James Blake to Beethoven.

Borrowing from your ideology of innovating and breaking barriers, what is your most abstract piece of choreography till date and in what matter?
There are many but to name one, it would be Romeo and Juliet. This is the most recent show we worked on and we heavily adapted it to be an immersive hip-hop theatre piece that unfolds across a number of indoor and outdoor locations. Our inspiration was to create a cinematic experience for audiences using Shakespeare’s epic love story. The show has dance and musicality at its heart, but is rooted as a theatre production. Our creative choreography and direction combines with Shakespeare’s text, adapted by spoken word artist and theatre maker Maxwell Golden, to create a unique show that immerses the audience in a modern take of the play that literally uses the cityscape and streets as the stage. Responding to the various sites, the show begins in a Public House (Bar) and then moves to a number of contrasting locations in London. Audience members are issued with wireless headphones, allowing them to move with the promenade adventure, totally immersed in the piece and at the same time isolated from the world around them. Performers use in ear monitoring and headset microphones. This enables this culturally and artistically diverse production to be mobile.

What has been the audience’s reception to this kind of dance?
The response has been overwhelming. People have seen a range of our work, some have been more hip-hop led, some more contemporary, some circus and others more youth focused.

We caught Avant Garde’s performance at the NCPA as part of an initiative helmed by The Park New Festival in collaboration with the British Council’s event, Impulse 2. In its 8th edition, The Park Festival has toured across six cities of India with various acts ranging from music, dance, stand-up comedy and theatre.

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