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From krump to contemporary, dancers channel Africa

Dancers from six African nations put on a high-energy dance piece inviting audiences to look through their window into contemporary Africa

AFP, Tuesday 30 Oct 2012
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The piece leaps between depictions of a street fight, a cockfight and an enthroned dictator surrounded by common folk (AFP)
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Blending jaw-dropping breakdance moves with everyday scenes, six dancers from different African nations are painting a portrait of their continent through a new show that pulses with energy and combines politics and tradition with street and contemporary dance.

The 90-minute piece leaps between depictions of a street fight, a cockfight, meetings between friends, Congo's "sapeurs" -- dandies who dress up in spectacular suits -- and an enthroned dictator surrounded by common folk.

"It's a window onto contemporary Africa, with their rage, their concerns, their interests," said Anthony Egea, the French choreographer behind La rage (Rage) the show being performed around French institutes in Africa, including in the Gabon capital Libreville, before heading to Europe.

The mixed choreography builds on a foundation of krumping, an amped-up street dance exploding with energy and aggression that developed in South Central Los Angeles following the beating of Rodney King and the ensuing 1992 riots. The frenetic moves involve vigorous shakes of the limbs, head and chest, almost as if the dancer is moving in fast-forward.

"The idea was to do a krump show, but to also incorporate hip hop with some contemporary dance and the traditional dance that each of the dancers has in him," said Egea, whose dance company is called Revolution.

"I wanted to bring in hip hop where it wasn't expected. Far from the baggie pants and baseball caps," he said.

"But you have to move from one technique to another seamlessly. In a way, we're creating a new dance," he added.

The show is presented on a pared-down stage, with little but a black curtain and a few simple props that the dancers move around.

Egea selected the crew of male dancers -- who hail from Mali, Congo, Gabon, the Comoros, the Central African Republic and Burkina Faso -- after seeing them perform in different workshops.

"The guys would go on stage and I'd fall off my chair. Someone absolutely had to make use of that talent and that rage," he said. 
 
Struggling since a young age
 
When Gabon's Djaroule Mvou -- whose name pays homage to the US rapper Ja Rule to whom he bears a slight resemblance -- got the offer to participate, he said he "didn't hesitate for a second: it was the opportunity I'd been waiting for."

"It's hard being a dancer in Africa," the 27-year-old said, explaining that he had struggled since starting to dance in public at age 13, despite what Egea calls his "incredible talent."

To live off his art, Djaroule often dances at weddings for 200,000 CFA francs (300 euros), but at one point worked as a security guard to make ends meet.

For the current show, he had to adapt his dance style, but he generally performs with a mask and came up with what he calls "comedic dance" -- a mix of pure hip hop, contortion, acrobatics and "also some Charlie Chaplin, Jim Carrey and Mr Bean."

In the show, Raymond Siopathis of the Central African Republic portrays an enthroned dictator, a possible reference to the country's late military dictator Jean-Bedel Bokassa, one of Africa's most ruthless rulers who was even accused of serving up his political rivals to lions and crocodiles.

"It worked out well because the story was important to me," Siopathis said of the part, adding, "the show covers politics because it covers everything. It addresses society and thus politics but that isn't the original intent. It speaks mainly of us."

Another intense scene features Congo's Kirsner Tsengou as a fighting cock, which Tsengou uses as a metaphor for the African people.

"We don't fight brutally on stage, but we show that as Africans we fight with the same energy (as animals fighting to survive), with all our might," he said.

In the powerful final dance, Salim Mze Hamadi Moissi, from the Comoros, battles four of the others in what for him is a sacred dance style.

"With krumping, I immediately knew it was made for me. When I krump, I am myself, it's even spiritual. I express myself, I make faces. It's close to trance," he said.

Adding that he had discovered the dance in 2007, long after it was created, he said of the first encounter, "It was a revelation."

The troop is scheduled to next tour France with the show, before performing across Europe in 2013.

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