Corps Est Graphique

Compagnie Käfig
Theatre Royal, Newcastle
(2005)

Production photograph

An odd one, this. As a demonstration of skilled hip hop dancing, Corps Est Graphique works well: as a piece of dance theatre it is much less successful.

Street Dance has become respectable, which is a bit sad really, for in the process it has lost some of its raw edge. If you have ever been to a "jam", you'll know what I mean. There each participant - like in a jazz jam session, from which it obviously gets its name - takes centrestage for a short while, improvising their response to the music. No matter how skilled and experienced the dancer, there is always that feeling of edginess, of taking a risk, but this is missing from Corps - inevitably, because it is choreographed and rehearsed.

Choreographer/artistic director Mourad Merzouki (whose brother As'n provided the music) has made two changes to what we might almost now call "traditional" hip hop: instead of the focus being on the individual, he makes use of synchronised dancing - chorus or corps de ballet work, essentially - and he has moved away from the male-centricity of Street Dance in general and of his earlier work in particular. Indeed the piece is about male/female relationships. It doesn't actually have anything profound to say - it does little more than cast an amused glance at the subject - and it make me wonder if Hip Hop can really work as - for want of a better phrase - an art form.

I suspect not: like aerialist work (such as, for example, Solaris), Hip Hop's palette of movement is too restricted to sustain a complex of emotions or ideas unless combined with something else. As another critic remarked to me as we left the theatre, "An hour was great. Anything longer would have been too much."

Merzouki is, I suspect, aware of this. The music (Hip Hop, often combined with a North African melodic line and the occasional Spanish rhythm), the staging (clever use of a small revolving rostrum with sides that can be opened out to triple its length and which conceals an entrance through which dancers can appear unexpectedly), lighting (very selective) and video (some resembling the work of Eadweard Muybridge) projected onto the back wall and the rostrum, sustain the interest. In his programme notes he talks about his next project combining circus, Hip Hop and theatre.

As an short evening's entertainment, it worked well and, with its moments of engaging humour and the skills of its performers, certainly got the audience going: as a piece of dance theatre, however, it was disappointingly superficial.

Hip Hop has come a long way since its birth on the streets and playgrounds of the Bronx back in the seventies but has lost some of its raw energy and earthiness on the journey.

The Newcastle performance(3rd and 4th June) was the final leg of a national tour.

Reviewer: Peter Lathan