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Updated: February 14, 2013 17:29 IST

A body of movement

Parvathi Nayar
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White Caps
White Caps

White Caps, a performance, combined dance and film, reinterpreting hip-hop within a genre-busting contemporary idiom

Terms such as lyrical, elegant and elegiac are not what you would use to describe the athletic moves of hip-hop dancing. I was quite unprepared for the surprise that awaited when I went along to the Chennai debut of Bristol-based hip-hop dance theatre company Champloo. If I was expecting an evening of high energy b-boying or breaking or breakdancing moves, White Caps by Champloo flouted all preconceived rules.

Champloo is deservedly considered one of the U.K.’s most unusual and inventive hip-hop companies. Formed in 2007 by Wilkie Branson and Joel Daniel, Champloo has carved a niche for itself in the contemporary performance arena by combining dance and film, not to mention reinterpreting hip-hop within a genre-busting contemporary dance idiom.

Yes, street dance’s movement vocabulary of lively tumbling, spinning and overall athleticism did inform and come through in White Caps. However, there were also passages set to poetic music, and slowed down by some lyrical choreography, where these origins were almost unrecognisable.

The piece opened with slow-mo film sequences of male bodies rotating, plummeting and falling in space, which led in to the live action, and then back into the world of moving pictures via a simple transition.

One of the two dancers, bare-torsoed and dramatically tattooed, lay down on the floor and closed his eyes — and the moment segued into a film sequence that opened with a dancer lying on the ground, eyes closed, in a bleakly beautiful autumnal landscape.

A simple idea

It’s a simple idea, when you think about it, to bring choreographed dancing set in the outdoors to an indoor space via film. But Champloo takes this idea to a more considered level.

Shot mostly in the landscapes around Bristol, it was obvious that the choreography was both inspired and dictated by the landforms — rather than something created in a studio and grafted onto the countryside. The dance was constructed to use the landscape as part of the moves, whether the flowing stream, the gnarled tree-trunks, leaf-carpeted earth or hilly slopes.

One of the most exuberant portions of the filmed choreography had the two men race up a hilly path at a breakneck speed that combined bravado with grace. Another memorable piece of outdoors choreography had the pair dance on a long flight of stairs that had water cascading endlessly down the steps.

Varied tones and rhythms

The rhythms and tone of the piece varied from the melancholic to the positive and energetic. There were intimations of danger and peril, such as a body floating along the creek, but as the soundtrack advised, you’ve got to keep rolling with the punches.

In other instances, where I’ve seen video used as part of a performance, it has often worked as a backdrop to the piece. Here, however, the filmic components were projected onto a gauzy scrim, placed upfront on the stage. The scrim worked like a regular opaque screen when the video was being played, but turned translucent when the duo, strongly lit, danced behind the projections.

Champloo’s five-city tour in India was thanks to the efforts of many organisations, not least the inaugural Chennai Hip-Hop Fest 2013 and the Impulse season of U.K. contemporary dance presented by the British Council.

What a stimulating season Impulse has been in Chennai, a nicely eclectic mix of contemporary dance that spanned the range from Kathak-inspired Akram Khan to the b-boying resonances of Champloo.

And though Champloo marks the end of the UK season of dance, enthusiasts can execute an acrobatic — if virtual — leap of appreciation at the announcement that the British Council has promised to make Impulse a biennial event.

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