Breakdance to Bach in a Church

Photo Credit: Victor Vargas Villafuerte

St-James United Church on Sainte-Catherine hosts a breakdance show for the Montreal Bach Festivals

By Rébecca Phaneuf-Thibault

Wait… Bach and breakdance? Together? In a church?

Yes you heard me right! The Flying Steps, an innovative break dance crew from Berlin, were part of the unlikely combination in the unlikely venue of St-James United church for the fourth edition of the Montreal Bach Festival last Monday, which celebrates the 325th anniversary of Bach’s birth with ten days of concerts and events–all Bach-themed of course.

This hybrid project was put together in 2009 when pianist and music lover Christopher Hagel met choreographer Vartan Basil in Berlin and they decided to create “Flying Bach,” a concert that would bring together Bach’s work and The Flying Steps’ breakdance skills–skills that were honed on some of the world biggest stages since 1993, and which have earned the dancers four breakdance world championships.

“The counterpoint rhythm of Bach’s fugues harmonizes beautifully with this choreography; better, in any case, than with classical ballet.” Hagel explained.
“Breakdance and Bach structure time similarly, one in a visual and one in the acoustic way. The Flying Steps dance as adroitly, precisely, and fluidly as Bach set voices against each other.”

According to choreographer Basil, the Bach-meets-breakdancing idea goes way back.

“We have been wanting to produce a crossover project for a rather long time already. But not until Christopher Hagel came along did we find an artist who helped us come to a deeper understanding of this music. Through him we learned for the first time not only how to interpret the notes but also to read, to understand the musical structure. At the same time, we can interpret the diverse voices through a counterpoint of choreography!”

And so, breakdancing and Bach met and the result of this union was beyond all expectations! It truly does mesh so well that it’s hard to understand why this hasn’t been done before. By mixing “haute couture” music and the street culture moves, not only do we refresh music that deserves to be updated  but it also brings urban dancing to a whole new level.

Flying Bach’s theme for this concert was five dancers and one instructor rehearsing for a big performance. On stage with them was a piano and a harpsichord. The moods and movements of the dancers fit perfectly with the fluctuations in the music. At some point, a mysterious woman was introduced, which added to the complexity of the plot. Her being a modern dancer, the mixing of the styles took a new and interesting turn which only added edge to the performance, without taking away from the unity of the piece.

A love story arises with one of the dancers and the woman, and they go through desire, passion, violence, denial, arrogance, curiosity, to finally make up.

The relationship between the two lovers can be extrapolated to the relationship between modern dancing and break dancing: there’s a definite pull between them, but together they need to compromise and let go of the arrogance to be able to create something beautiful.

Throughout the performance, once in a while the piano and harpsichord were joined by electronic music arrangements, light projections and multimedia ‘mini-clips’ to accompany the dancing. It was the perfect balance of styles, truly an inspiration to see how artists take the best out of polar opposites and create a whole new movement!

Truly brilliant!

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