Bach wears kicks, bro

Red Bull Flying Bach Music Academy

Upon first consideration, Bach and break dancing seem pretty close to perfect opposites. But, you know what they say about opposites attracting…the tension that differences inspire breed passion in the most captivating of ways. And just like light and dark, yin and yang, agony and ecstasy the larger the contrast, the deeper the infatuation. Similarly, Bach and breakdancing offer us a cultural clash so unique that the unexpected pairing becomes profoundly enchanting.

Flying Bach is the collaboration between Berlin based break dancing crew, Flying Steps and Christoph Hagel, a world renown composer who has altered Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier in order for it to share the stage with break dancing. Sound unusual? Well it is, and, the union of these two vastly different concepts wasn’t exactly seamless. At first the idea was a chaotic dream, an absurd challenge based on opposing ideas. As the thoughts became isolated they folded to tension, the tension shifted to friction and from friction came heat. Heat eventually simmers to warmth, evolving into love, mutual respect and harmony.

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The story line of Flying Bach is simple. A dancing crew are interrupted by a female dancer who’s dancing style is completely alien to their own, and despite causing conflict she refuses to adapt. Slowly romance blossoms between her and one of the lead break dancers and over time she becomes a key component of the performance. The story mirrors the evolution of the union of Bach and breakdancing. Vartan Bassil (the choreographer of Flying Bach) always dreamt of performing to classical music but struggled to effectively adapt it for break dancing. Queue the arrival of well known conductor, Christoph Hagel who, inspired by the passion and commitment of the dance crew promised to help them fufill their dreams of developing a classical break dancing show.

On face value classical music and break dancing appear to draw on vastly opposing foundations, creating sparks of friction as they rub up against one another. Surprisingly though, as you become absorbed in Flying Bach you start to understand that they also share many similarities in style and composition. Streams of classical ballet, contemporary dance and breakdancing alike seek to dramatize simplistic story lines and situations through movement and physical expression. Both are precise; at times in rigidity, at others in fluidity and both ooze passion and power from their very pores.

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Set to Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier, the performance is foundationally classical and despite expecting it to clash with the street style of Flying Steps the two styles are intertwined, becoming complementary of each other with electro, hip hop beats ‘filling’ in the bars between Bach’s notes. This tactically contemporizes the music, allowing it to make more sense rhythmically for the break dancers and counteractively the energy and vitality of the break dancing helps to lift the tone of Bach. In a similar manner the classical ballet movements of lead dancer Yui Kawaguchi enable the breakdances a broader range of functionality in their steps and style, inserting more fluidity and elasticity in their range.

What you don’t realise though (without being a classical music buff) is that the Flying Bach crew actually personify every note of Bach through movement; that is, each dancer represents an individual note of the music, one high, one low and one bass so that they literally embody Bach.  And when you realise this, it dawns on you abruptly how much precision and skill is behind this production. Not only is the performance unflawed, unique, sassy, intelligent and enjoyable but it is actually a living recontexualization of a classical piece through contemporary, urban dance. Similarly it lifts the perception of breakdancing from being pigeonholded as ‘street’ and allows it to be viewed through the lens of high culture, as a style of dance that bleeds justs as much elegance, finesse and magnificence as opera or ballet.

Essentially, Flying Bach is a moving art work. Bach would be spinning in his grave. On his head.

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The skill and passion of the Flying Bach dancers is so staggering that I spent most of the performance in a stupefied state with my jaw rested firmly on the floor, open in disbelief, or, with my head tilted quizzically to one side wondering if what was happening on stage is gymnastics, contortionism, ballet, break dancing or just plain floating on air.  Seeing the Flying Bach performance at the State Theatre was such a privileged and special experience. As I clutch at words to describe the performance, every adjective seems hollow and contrived when attached to the elegance and vivacity of what I’ve just witnessed.

Red Bull and Flying Bach have so perfectly interpreted our contemporary societies love of culture and history and modified it for our modern context, recognising our fleeting attention spans and constant need for mental stimulation, our attachment to ambiguity and desire for everything to be interwoven with passion, drama, desire and beauty.

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Unfortunately Flying Bach has finished the Sydney leg of it’s tour but you can download the original music from the production via itunes, here.

And, if you happen to be jet setting around the world you a list of their other performances are accessible here.

Thanks to Red Bull for the opportunity to experience Flying Bach and to try my hand at learning some of the basic steps of break dancing!

Words – The Other Jess



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