A bare stage. One by one, seven dancers walk into the space and start recomposing it, drawing it as it were with their presence, their movements and, at times, also their voices. The beginning of 8.2, seen at De Brakke Grond in Amsterdam on October 30th, is not unfamiliar to contemporary dance: the idea that a space, any space, is modified by a body entering it, as a stroke of color changes a blank canvas. Evenly common is the idea that a repertoire of recognizable gestures, taken out of context and placed onto the stage, can be put to work in a different fashion to compose a new thing-in-it-itself, a choreography that belongs as much to that present here-and-now as to the source they once came from. Inspired by rap music, Radouan Mriziga (Marrakech, 1985) engages in these two common choreographic exercises. What gives a particular light to this event though, is that the seven dancers performing the score are youngsters between the ages of 13 and 21.
Dressed in diverse urban outfits – army-print here, a comfy-looking orange tracksuit there, a denim jacket with a very fitting motto imprinted on the back: “the space is the place” – they execute a well rehearsed, collective choreography made up of rythms, moves, gestures and poses derived from the world of rap. Except for three thankful moments of musical relief, the whole thing happens in silence, broken only by the voices of the performers when they quote one rap song or another. Collective fragments are combined with solo-moments, everyone getting the chance to shine with what they do best: voguing, funky moves, breakdance, song, etc.
The silence establishes a distance, a certain coldness amid the middle fingers, the nonchalant poses of “I don’t give a fuck”, or the hip moves and the piece itself. Funnily enough, the performers’ youth enhances this feeling. Precisely because Mriziga treats the material without engaging in its emotion – the hip-hop-like elements are stripped of sentimentalism, used as material for a canonic contemporary dance piece – the “potential of becoming” brought in by the dancers’ age makes 8.2 seem like a moment of discovery, as if this was the first time these performers played with these gestures to make them their own.
On another note, their vulnerability and over-apparent focus in trying to follow the intricate rythmic structure in silence, and the unapologetic abuncance of energy springing out of their being when performing solo, give the piece a shimmer of unfakeable vitality. And that kind of proof of life is always interesting to see.
8.2, made in collaboration with Flemish youth-focused performing arts institutions hetpaleis and fABULEUS, is a layered project, something between installation, dance performance and community project. The pedagogic aspect of it all is strengthened by the handout that offers each performer space to explain their experience with rap music. A far from innocuous profile of each dancer is also included: a third year high-school student, a bio-engineer in the making, a recently graduated schoolteacher, a seasoned breakdancer and regular battler, and so forth, and so on.
By approaching rap and, through it, hip hop culture with his apparently clinical eye, together with members of a new generation of adepts, Radouan Mriziga challenges the prejudices surrounding it. Beyond the always politically incorrect verses and gestures, 8.2 allows us to observe the politically and socially highly engaged dimension that lies under them. As if we were looking back after the passing of a tidal wave, to discover it has sifted from the margins to the core to become a means to the many, from one generation and onto the next.
Seen: October 30 2019, Brakke Grond, Amsterdam