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MUSIC

Breakdancing to Bach in Berlin

Breakdancing combines with Bach in Berlin this month as an award-winning dance group and an avant-garde musical director put an ultra-modern spin on the German composer's almost 300-year-old music.

Breakdancing to Bach in Berlin
Photo: DPA

Beginning on Tuesday, Berlin-based Flying Steps, four-time world champions in breakdance, perform to works from Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Das Wohltemperierte Klavier” (“The Well-Tempered Clavier”) for 12 nights.

“Flying Bach” is billed as “hip-hop philosophy meets classical genius” and a “Bach battle in 12 rounds.”

The composer’s preludes and fugues are played either on piano and harpsichord, or given an electronic makeover, pumped through speakers at Berlin’s modern art museum, the Neue Nationalgalerie.

As the group’s founder Vartan Bassil explains, the six dancers of Flying Steps mix up breakdancing with so many different high-energy styles that it can look like something completely new.

“It is a huge challenge to perform to classical music. With hip-hop we move in time with the beats. But with Bach we also have to transform quieter noises into movement, and mirror the feel of the music with our dancing.

“In breakdance, technique and acrobatics take centre stage, the combination of individual moves. But for ‘Flying Bach’ we wanted the emotion of the music to come across.”

Joining Flying Steps’ Vartan, Benny, Mikel, Lil Ceng, KC-1 and Lil Rock on stage is Japanese contemporary dance artist Yui Kawaguchi, the show’s only female dancer.

Video artist Marco Moo meanwhile beams live visuals on the walls, onto the museum’s huge windows behind the performance and at one point onto a white sheet held up by the dancers on stage.

For the project, Flying Steps teamed up with German director Christoph Hagel, who is no stranger to giving classical music a modern makeover having previously staged Mozart operas in a power station and in a metro station.

“My job was to explain the music, to make the dancers understand how artfully and refined Bach composed his music. But I stayed out of the choreography,” he said.

The result was a new experience, and Hagel says he was amazed by how well breakdance lends itself to Bach, better than classical ballet, for example. He also thinks traditionalists could learn a thing or two from the group.

“Flying Steps have such an unpretentious way of listening to and interpreting music … I am amazed by their energy and directness – it’s not something I know from the high-minded world of high culture,” Hagel said.

“We want to show that Bach is high-energy music and that hip-hop can be great art.”

“Flying Bach” runs until May 1.

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CULTURE

German town resurrects 400-year-old biblical play tradition

Walk around the German Alpine village of Oberammergau, and the chances are you'll run into Jesus or one of his 12 disciples.

German town resurrects 400-year-old biblical play tradition

Of the 5,500 people living there, 1,400 — aged from three months to 85 — are participating this year in the once-a-decade staging of an elaborate “Passion Play” depicting the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Dating back to 1634, the tradition has persisted through four centuries of wars, religious turmoil and pandemics — including the most recent Covid-19 crisis which caused the show to be postponed by two years.

“I think we’re a bit stubborn,” says Frederic Mayet, 42, when asked how the village has managed to hold on to the tradition.

Mayet, who is playing Jesus for the second time this year, says the Passion Play has become a big part of the town’s identity.

Oberammergau Passion Plays

Posters for the 42nd Oberammergau Passion Play – which was originally scheduled to take place in 2020. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Angelika Warmth

The only prerequisite for taking part in the five-hour show, whether as an actor, chorister or backstage assistant, is that you were born in Oberammergau or have lived here for at least 20 years.

“I remember that we talked about it in kindergarten. I didn’t really know what it was about, but of course I wanted to take part,” says Cengiz Gorur, 22, who is playing Judas.

READ ALSO: REVEALED: The best events and festivals in Germany this July

‘Hidden talent’ 

The tradition, which dates back to the Thirty Years’ War, was born from a belief that staging the play would help keep the town safe from disease.

Legend has it that, after the first performance, the plague disappeared from the town.

In the picturesque Alpine village, Jesus and his disciples are everywhere — from paintings on the the facades of old houses to carved wooden figures in shop windows.

You also can’t help feeling that there is a higher-than-average quota of men with long hair and beards wandering the streets.

Religious figurines Oberammergau

Religious figurines adorn a shop window in Oberammergau. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Angelika Warmuth

An intricate image of Jesus graces the stage of the open-air Passion Play theatre, where the latest edition of the show is being held from mid-May to October 2nd.

“What has always fascinated me is the quality of the relationship between all the participants, young and old. It’s a beautiful community, a sort of ‘Passion’ family,” says Walter Lang, 83.

He’s just sad that his wife, who died in February, will not be among the participants this year.

“My parents met at a Passion Play, and I also met my future wife at one,” says Andreas Rödl, village mayor and choir member.

Gorur, who has Turkish roots, was spotted in 2016 by Christian Stückl, the head of the Munich People’s Theatre who will direct the play for the fourth time this year.

“I didn’t really know what to do with my life. I probably would have ended up selling cars, the typical story,” he laughs.

Now, he’s due to start studying drama in Munich this autumn.

“I’ve discovered my hidden talent,” he says.

READ ALSO: Nine of the best day trips from Munich with the €9 ticket

Violence, poverty and sickness

Stückl “has done a lot for the reputation of the show, which he has revolutionised” over the past 40 years, according to Barbara Schuster, 35, a human resources manager who is playing Mary Magdalene.

“Going to the Passion Play used to be like going to mass. Now it’s a real theatrical show,” she says.

In the 1980s, Stückl cut all the parts of the text that accused the Jews of being responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus, freeing the play from anti-Semitic connotations.

“Hitler had used the Passion Play for his propaganda,” Schuster points out.

Stückl

Christian Stückl, the director of the Oberammergau Passion Play, holds a press conference announcing the cancellation of the play in 2020. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Angelika Warmuth

The play’s themes of violence, poverty and sickness are reflected in today’s world through the war in Ukraine and the Covid-19 pandemic, say Mayet, the actor playing Jesus.

“Apparently we have the same problems as 2,000 years ago,” he says.

For 83-year-old Lang, who is playing a peasant this year, the “Hallelujah” after Christ has risen for the final time in October will be a particularly moving moment.

“Because we don’t know if we’ll be there again next time,” he says, his eyes filling with tears.

By Isabelle Le Page

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