Report from ADF: Le Hip Hop/Campagnie Kafig

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Photo by M. M.

I like France a lot. I like hip-hop less. But I’m game. The problem for me is that I’ve seen so much of it I’m oversaturated. So, yawn, there you go spinning on your head again. I could very well have caught a case of hip-hop resistance syndrome (HHRS). Compagnie Kafig’s performance of Recital at the American Dance Festival provided ample ground for me to examine my malady.

I’ve always appreciated that fearless French spirit. (The revolution worked out well, didn’t it?) This handsome troupe just dripped with can-do verve (I assume it was of the French kind). They smiled, beamed really, and generally looked as if they were having a fine time. I nearly forgot that existentialism began in France.

Director Mourad Merzouki tried his hand at doing something different with hip-hop. Innovation is just so French. Just think about what they do with scarves. He sets his dance in a smoke-filled recital hall. Music stands arranged in a “v” clutter the space—so much so the dancers look concerned about the space drought. I witnessed them holding back on their spins, knots, and human pretzel twists. In hip-hop, holding back is not a good thing. And, I’ve never thought of the French as a holding back lot, so I am puzzled by this.

Later in the dance, violins come into the picture–a curious choice and not all that conducive to dancing. Finally, those music stands get hauled away and raised in a clump over the dancers. I spend the rest of the dance worried that they are going to fall on my new French friends. Also, I wondered why the emperor from Star Wars was popping in the background. I’m happy to see him exploring international relations.

I did enjoy the part when the young Frenchman tried to unscrew his head. I, too, want to unscrew my head. Quelle illusion. I liked that there were no violins and music stands in his way too.

In a dark corner, I saw a fantastic corkscrew action. Why is this wonderful display of human drill virtuosity happening upstage right? Then I remembered, the French are a humble people.

Monsieur Merzouki rescues hip-hop from its humble origins by making it a “theater event.”
Is hip-hop happening on the street these days? Has the street moved on? Something about this thought made what was happening on stage look a bit old-fashioned. Could the hip be falling out of the hop? Is France interested in second-hand pop culture?

The audience just bubbled with happiness, sometimes screaming out words. I wanted to join in, but, I don’t speak French. The best part was the encore. Finally, Campagnie Kafig could do what they do best–entertain with hard-to-do tricks, like walking up walls. I want to try that at home. But first, I will unscrew my head. Much of what Campagnie Kafig did involved the head. Once, one of those strapping lads flew across the stage–on his head. I worried, just a bit, about their brains. Don’t the French eat brains?

Now, it’s been said, (by me, actually), that bits don’t make a dance. Actually, in hip-hop they do. There was some great dancing, one magnificent head spin, and several bordering-on-impossible feats. Not enough for a total cure, but I definitely like the French more, and am doing my best to like hip-hop.

Note: The author would like it to be known that she loves the French people, that several of the members of Campagnie Kafig are actually French Algerian, that she stands firmly that “freedom fries” are a silly idea, that the French got it right about the war, and that secretly, she desires to be a thin French woman.

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