Dallas — Headspins. Headspins for days.
Technically, only three of them actually occur in Red Bull Flying Bach, featuring Berlin’s four-time world breakdancing champion crew The Flying Steps presented at the Majestic Theatre in Dallas, but the amount of time each b-boy remains spinning like a perfectly aligned top is mind-blowing.
While that’s an obvious standout moment (as most virtuosic movements tend to be), the show transcends the ordinary on so many levels. The fusion of J.S. Bach’s The Well-Tempered Clavier, Pt. I with various hip-hop forms and contemporary dance is enough to have people of all backgrounds lining up outside the Majestic on opening night. Friends and colleagues that I would never expect to see at a show like this even made it out over the weekend.
Hip-hop dance as been performed to classical music for quite some time, but the method employed here rarely finds the concert stage and definitely never to the degree of success The Flying Steps have achieved. Since its entrance in 2010, the show has been enjoyed by hundreds of thousands of patrons across multiple countries, won prestigious awards, and has been performed in venues that had never housed a b-boy.
What began as a collaboration between Flying Steps founder Vartan Bassil and opera director Christoph Hagel evolved into worldwide phenomenon that crosses cultural barriers, with parties on all sides developing a deeper appreciation for a different art form. Instead of simply dancing to the music, the b-boys developed maneuvers, created a story, and structured existing breakdancing vocabulary based on Hagel’s careful breakdown of a 300-year-old composition.
With Hagel (an awesome pre-show hype man) on piano and Sofya Gandilyan on harpsichord, the show uses a mixture of live and recorded music to tell the story of a group of b-boys meeting a contemporary dancer and the resulting conflicts and explorations that follow. Amidst the toprocking, floor work, power moves, and headspins, the dancers reveal their personalities through humorous interactions. Graffitti-style projections add an additional visual pop to the production running about an hour-and-a-half with no intermission.
The b-boys’ individual moments shine just as bright as the ensemble segments. They exhibit precise shapes during the top-rocking and tutting sections, smooth and graceful transitions between freezes and headstands, and a just a general sense of down-to-earth ease. Remarkable locking vocabulary and, of course, incredible power moves make just about every moment on stage with them a visual thrill ride.
Another highlight is the slow-motion reel of those power moves, where we get a glimpse at the muscles engaged in each position and the physical impetus for every twist, turn, and lift.
It’s an overall incredible show, and everyone should see it. But I wouldn’t be a critic if I didn’t have something to say on the not-so-spectacular moments.
The contemporary dance elements fall flat in comparison to the exquisite music and b-boying, and it lies in Yui Kawaguchi’s choreography and Anna Holmström’s performance quality. The phrases in the first part of the show are quite simple and repetitive, something typical of ballet, but not necessarily contemporary dance. (Which also brings up the overall issue of how one’s perception of a dance form affects the viewing experience.) Later choreography grows more varied, especially as the dancer interacts more with the b-boys and delivers more gestural and acrobatic movements.
Holmström executes each maneuver with grace, ease, and precision, displaying enviable flexibility of the spine and light-as-air leaps. But her dancing feels stunted most of the time, as if she’s not expanding outside of herself enough. The interpretations of contemporary dance we typically see commercially and on stage feature dancers exploding out of their spaces, with vigorous passion and emotion (much like what b-boys do), yet very little of that happens on stage with her movements. If that same quality were juxtaposed against ballet or other types of modern dance, it might seem less constrained, but against the backdrop of breakdancing, the vocabulary and overall execution disappoint.
The choice of a more balletic contemporary dance makes sense, though, in demonstrating the contrast and commonalities between classical music and breakdancing. The dancers explore those similar moments as conflict between the two styles heightens, and they all dance together in a fiery finale.
That unity, the melding of two supposedly disparate art forms musically and choreographically, is why this show holds such importance in our culture today. When those in the world use our differences to divide and despise, rather than celebrate and appreciate, it’s refreshing and empowering to see artists around the world remind us of our common ground.
A simple glance at those involved in show illustrates this perfectly. A Baroque-era European composer, a German opera director, a Japanese choreographer, a classically-trained dancer from Sweden, and b-boys hailing from eight different countries on five continents prove that our universal need and love for movement, music, and expression transcends barriers. Who knew that Bach and breakdancing could bring people together in such a profound way?