French Hip Hop?

There is an old saying that a “Lie can get half way around the world before Truth has a chance to get its pants on”.

There is one thing faster – music.

Festival celebrates French hip-hop

Since the founding of Washington, it has been tres facile to sense the French influence in the circles, grids and diagonals bequeathed by Pierre L’Enfant, and in recent years, it seems no office is more than steps away from a French (or French-named) place to buy a croissant.

You’d think Sylvain Cornevaux, cultural director of the Alliance Francaise, would consider his mission accomplished now that it’s so easy to pick up baguettes in our French-formatted city. He doesn’t.

“The bread, the architecture — these things are French, and these things are very nice, but they are also very old,” Cornevaux said. And so this month, in an effort to connect the District’s streets with the New France, he has organized a festival of French hip-hop dance.

Oui. French hip-hop dance. Does that sound oxymoronic? Au contraire, Cornevaux explains. Given the influx of immigrants from former French colonies and the general French fascination with urban American life, hip-hop culture caught on in France but quickly merged with higher-brow art. The result is choreography that’s now being exported back to the United States. And thus we have “Urban Corps: A Transatlantic Hip-Hop Festival,” which continues through Friday, May 25, at venues in Arlington County and the District.

“It is very interesting, because hip-hop was born in the U.S. but it has quickly developed in another way in France,” Cornevaux said. “Hip-hop was still an emerging artistic field in the beginning of the ’80s, but at the beginning of the ’90s, many hip-hop artists started working a lot with classical choreographers and with artistic directors of theaters. [Dancers] kept their hip-hop skills but transformed to show them in a contemporary manner. They incorporate hip-hop, mime and Capoeira,” a Brazilian blend of athletic dance and martial arts.

The Alliance, a nonprofit group dedicated to promoting French language and culture, worked hard to obtain visas for 13 dancers affiliated with four French companies, and each troupe received funding from its home town or region to cover travel. The city of Nantes even paid to ship extensive sets for KLP Company’s show “Tour of Duty” to that Atlas Performing Arts Center.

“Tour of Duty” may sound like a show inspired by military battles or war video games, but according to press materials and the company’s Web site, it’s actually a narrative tracing the history of hip-hop in Brooklyn, beginning in 1960, and recounting years of gang wars and communities coming together.

Junious Brickhouse, founder of the District-based hip-hop collective Urban Artistry, is a bit skeptical about the storyline — Brooklyn? What about the South Bronx? — but suspects that the dancing will be on target. “I’ll be honest. I think there are some things that get lost in translation,” Brickhouse said, “but at the end of the day, I just want to get down with some nonverbal art.”…

Chez Chez…Indeed.

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