In two successive performances held in Pernik and Sofia of a show titled Equilibrium, two Bulgarian companies of street dances––hip-hop and break––DA Clique and X-Energy Crew were joined by Berlin-based Flying Steps Academy. Let’s begin with a short presentation of the companies:
DA Clique was formed in 2012, uniting some 70 young dancers, training in Pernik, Sofia, Radomir, Breznik and the region. For the time being they have staged eight dance performances presented in Pernik, Sofia, Dupnitsa and Bansko. The group was nominated for the Best Hip-Hop Dance Company at the fourth edition of Bulgarian Hip-Hop Awards 2016, making it to the Top 5 of a total of 25 groups and was ranked first by the fans.
X-Energy Crew was formed in 1999 in Sofia. Its members have been working for over a decade and a half now towards promoting hip-hop culture in this country. They have participated in a number of international festivals, advertising campaigns, movies, competitions and charity events.
Formed in 1993 in Berlin, Flying Steps is among the most successful companies in developing urban dance internationally. Presently, Flying Steps Academy trains over 1,000 dancers from across the world and is believed to be the most prestigious dance school in Europe.
What Equilibrium surprises with is the ability to build a performance. Dance companies would more often than not face such a problem: interesting dance combinations, spectacular turns and somersaults on the ground and/or in the air without being able to blend all these into a general concept. That is the reason why competitions where certain combinations are presented onstage and juries gradually eliminate the participants to select the best are the most popular formats for such dance companies.
Equilibrium has made a successful attempt to avoid fragmentariness and competitiveness, typical of street dances. The very fact of three groups participating in a production suggests a kind of competitiveness, but it has been successfully suppressed to channel all the energy into a common goal: making a performance.
I attended the performance given at Iskur Community Centre, Sofia and that is why I can comment on it solely, but supposedly, the performance given in Pernik the previous day developed in the same way.
After the introductory demonstration of the technical skills of the companies, the performance itself began with a narrator announcing that the action ought to be followed carefully due to the ample symbolism. The mythological creation of the earth was presented: God creating the earth, the creatures of the sea, birds, animals, man and the woman appearing as his shadow (a very interesting duet of the two, which in its display of acrobatics was reminiscent of some of the supports of Pilobolus); how social differentiation came into existence: some scrub the floor, others are engaged in salon dances in the palace; and how the lowest of the low, the cleaners poison the king and the queen (an association with Hamlet perhaps), provoking a revolution (the French one maybe, which toppled the king). This first regicide led to a series of episodes of struggle for power. The first human couple (a version of Adam and Eve) multiplied over the years into other couples with their love always trampled upon by growing hatred and aspiration to dominate. The grand throne of human bodies seating the new emperor (associated with Napoleon following the French Revolution) was marvellously represented. The emperor separated the lovers to marry the girl.
This ongoing comparison between couples of lovers (different in the different historical periods) and the chanting crowds, who trample upon love in their striving for domination, was shown on more than one occasion at different levels of the development of our civilisation evolving into versions of the Matrix with the result being the same: competitiveness growing into intolerance against the other and the weaker. This led God to despair. The idea of God is in fact represented in a trinity of a kind: God is the original thought and harmony, creating His Son, who in His turn creates His human equivalent, a version of Adam. God eventually retired from the world, which boosted aggression and murders ‘just for the fun of it’. The struggle between the groups was quite spectacularly presented using break dance. In the end, God came back not to restore harmony, which would be too naive to expect, but to re-establish the idea of bipolarity: to have at least one couple against the aggression, though defenceless, but standing up for their love. And again as it was in the beginning, God was in the centre surrounded by creatures of the sea, birds, animals, and men in their never-ending whirligig…
I am telling the story in details because in the performance of the three companies, DA Clique, X-Energy Crew and Flying Steps, the greatest success in my opinion is the developing of a story. I am working with individual street dancers, witnessing every time how difficult it is to them to create a storyline, building a comprehensive concept. With them, the idea of a show dominates, presented as a competition of a kind between the groups and replacing the idea of a performance as a presentation of an integral concept, storyline and message. That is why I believe that what Equilibrium showed was a successful beginning on which street dances should model their versions of building a performance.
Flaws, of course, were apparent: lighting, spectacular in itself, but often an end in itself meant more for a stadium and at times even blinding the audience and the performers; costumes, too mashed-up creating a feeling that everything available has been put to use (especially in the episodes at the palace and the creation of the amphibians, animals and birds).
The greatest achievement is the building of a performance, which is made possible only after a working opposition was found (at long last) in dance too: classical and salon dances, modern as more balanced in terms of energy as opposed to acrobatics and the vibes of street dances. It is this dance opposition that makes the performance, building the inner conflict of the work.
The music by composer Milen Apostolov has been used to this end. He has achieved a good balance between classical and electronic music of the twenty-first century to compare the past and the present. It is the music that increases the impression of integrity, unlike the witnessed over the last decades collages of various musical pieces.
And last but not least, I’d congratulate the dancers of the three companies, DA Clique, X-Energy Crew and Flying Steps and their leaders, Denis Iliev (founder of DA Clique in Pernik, specialised in hip-hop dances and partially, in competitive ballroom dancing, who performs with Flying Steps) and Kalin Kalinov (leading X-Energy Crew, who engages in break dances, contemporary, acting, pantomime), as well as the rest of the choreographers, a total of 12. Some 60 dancers of various dance styles perform onstage (34 from Germany and Europe, 25 from Bulgaria and about 20 kids from the abovementioned schools): unbelievable performers impressing with their complicated dance figures, many turns even on their heads and spectacular somersaults, exuding powerful vibes that flood the stage and greeted by thunderous applause from the full house. This comes to testify once again that in hip-hop culture a spectacular somersault is still more valued that an integral concept of a p[performance; that audiences show interest in such productions; that the idea of a uniting storyline has been broached and that this is the path towards building a performance rather than a mere show. These how street dances should pave their way onto the stage not as spectacular performances in group concerts or competitions, but rather as an opportunity for a stage territory of their own.
A successful beginning on the long road to a stage territory for street dances, to a niche on theatre stages.