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Fluid rhythms of Boogaloo and dramatic dance delight Swiss

The Rennie Harris Puremovement troupe specialises in hip-hop.

(www.artsandlectures.ucsb.edu)

Switzerland's eighth biannual dance festival is proving to be a roaring success across the country.

A contemporary dance showcase for artists from all over the world, the aptly named Steps #8 is playing to packed houses from Zug to Lausanne and Basel.

This year, 12 dance groups from as far afield as Los Angeles in the United States, are being featured in Swiss theatres and performance halls. The groups stay in one venue for a couple of nights before heading off to the next.

Two of the more unusual troupes at the festival are the Rennie Harris Puremovement hip hop group and the Netherlands Dance Theatre III, comprised of dancers older than 40.

Both troupes were founded eleven years ago but their styles are poles apart.

Puremovement

Rennie Harris grew up in Philadelphia and earned his dancing stripes as a body popper. In 1991 he was commissioned to produce 45 minutes of hip-hop dance.

It was so well received by what Harris calls "Philly's conservative society", that it developed into two permanent repertory companies and two travelling casts, which regularly perform all over the world.

Hip-hop covers a broad spectrum of dance, from boogaloo to house and breaking to locking. Harris is a popper, which means he uses jerky isolating movements to give the effect of what is best described as fluid robotics.

Boogaloo

Boogaloo on the other hand was established in the seventies and was inspired by the song "Do the Boogaloo" by the soul singer, James Brown. Boogaloo shot to fame when Michael Jackson incorporated its moon walk and backslide movements into his dance routines.

But whatever the style, the hip-hop feeling is always the same - it's free, rhythmic and often acrobatic.

It differs from ballet and more traditional forms of dance in many ways, none more so than the unconventional, ad hoc, way it is taught and passed on.

"Western culture is a written, recorded culture and it prides itself on history," he says, explaining that black culture is different. "In black culture, by that I mean people of colour, when culture is handed down, you just know it. [It doesn't have to be taught]."

For example "you know your grandmother's cooking without her telling you what it tastes like. You don't have to write it down, you can make it and it will be the same as your grandmother's."

P Funk

Harris's troupe are performing a medley of choreography during the Steps #8 festival including pieces called "Students of the Asphalt Jungle", "March of the Ant men" and "P Funk", all of which have thrilled Swiss dance fans.

"It's been accepted and received very well," he proudly says. "After the first show we did an encore, the second we did two encores. For the last week we have had standing ovations."

Harris believes the warm reception his troupe has received is due to the different flavour they bring to Steps #8. He says they show that dance is accessible. "We bring a sense of moving forward," he muses, "it's 2002, the world is changing."

NDT III

At the other end of the spectrum, Steps #8 is also showcasing the Netherlands Dance Theatre III (NDT III), which is made up of dancers in the twilight of their career.

The troupe's four dancers and artistic director range in age from the early 40s to 59. They are regulars to the Steps festival with this being their third appearance.

The group was set up in Holland by Jiri Kylian in 1991, who liked the idea of giving dancers, who have retired from professional dance, a new lease on life.

"We have just reached a point in our lives where we have a lot to say and express on stage." Says Sabine Kupferberg, one of the NDT III performers. "We have far more to give than just simply stopping by 35 or 40 years old."

"Merryland"

During the festival the troupe is performing a specially choreographed two-hour long piece. Simply called "Merryland", it is a vehicle for the mature performers to show off the breadth of their experience.

"It's a reflection on the childhood and the huge career we have behind us." Kupferberger explains. "It's all done in children's costumes with memories, memories, full of memories, but it is special piece. Meryl Tankard, [the choreographer] understood the position we are in now in our careers and our lives. It would be impossible to do it with younger dancers."

Despite the artistic flavour the older dancers bring to the piece, the group's artistic director, Egon Madsen, is under no illusions as to why audiences keep coming to see them.

"They like to come and see us," he states. "They know we cannot move like young people so there must be something special and they want to see that."

For the moment, NDT III is the only over 40 professional dance group in the world. With younger ballet companies and dance groups ten-a-penny in comparison, NDT III brings a unique appeal to Steps #8, and is a major hit with Swiss audiences.

Dance fans will have to be quick though if they want to catch the varied delights of Steps #8 as the festival finishes on May 5.

by Sally Mules


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