Red Bull ‘Flying Bach’ an electrifying mashup of hip-hop, ‘Clavier’
By HEDY WEISS Theater Critic June 23, 2014 5:50PM
Red Bull "Flying Bach" at Chicago's Civic Opera House. | PHOTO BY CARLO CRUZ
‘RED BULL FLYING BACH’
When: Through June 29
Where: Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker Tickets
Info: Visit ticketmaster.com
Run time: 80 minutes, with no intermission
Updated: June 25, 2014 12:06PM
Were the bones of Bellini, Puccini, Mozart, Verdi and Wagner rockin,’ rollin,’ and hip-hoppin’ at Chicago’s Civic Opera House this weekend, and will they keep on shakin’ to a heartbeat-altering bass thump next weekend, as well?
To be sure, Sunday afternoon’s performance of “Red Bull Flying Bach,” the classical music-meets-beatbox and breakdance spectacle from Berlin, attracted a huge crowd of all ages. And if it’s fusion you are looking for, this 80-minute show has something for everyone, with the acoustic and the electronic, the aural and the visual, deftly mixed and matched.
“The Well-Tempered Clavier,” Johann Sebastian Bach’s collection of preludes and fugues for solo piano dating from 1722, were supremely well-served by the virtuosic playing of the show’s notably relaxed music director, Christoph Hagel, and a rail-thin, hip-looking harpsichordist (Daniel Trumbull). And a recording of the composer’s organ-driven “Toccata and Fugue in D-Minor” was so powerfully amplifed that it set the theater walls (and everyone inside them) into vibrating mode.
Meanwhile, The Flying Steps, the show’s fabulously fleet ensemble of male breakdancer-acrobats (who supplied the moves, along with choreographer Vartan Bassil), interpreted the complex themes and variations of Bach’s ingenious pieces with classic torque-like gyrations, Michael Jackson-style isolations and semaphore-like arm movements — sometimes working solo, sometimes in duets, sometimes in groups that captured the point and counterpoint of the music. And their inventive riffs on the breakdance vocabulary often went beyond an illustration by way of playful little “ornamentations” riffing on Bach’s own.
Pierre Bleriot, slender and long-limbed, proved himself to be a human gyroscope capable of spinning on his head at breakneck speed. Khaled Chaabi and Gengis Ademoski brought a particular theatricality to their dancing. Michael Rosemann was the “adult” of the group, with Nordine-Dany Grimah and Yamine Manaa dancing with style, and making the absence of Alan Da Silva (who had injured his shoulder) unnoticeable.
Choreographer Yui Kawaguchi’s more blandly balletic interpretations (which played on the music’s lyrical and dramatic lines, and involved one brief violent confrontation that added a bit of melodrama), was performed by the show’s sole female dancer, Anna Holmstrom, who also is a strong-bodied contortionist.
Complementing the patterns of the music and choreography are the show’s elaborate, high-tech video projections. Some are just elaborate swirls echoing the decorative squiggles on Bach’s own score). Others are more expressionistic — shattered glass, a chain-link fence and brick wall washed with gorgeous color, a film projected on a sheet with male dancers in white jeans “dancing” in deep water, enveloped in bubbles.
Bach composed his “Well-Tempered Clavier” for “the profit and use of musical youth desirous of learning, and especially for the pastime of those already skilled in this study.” I’m not sure exposure to “Red Bull Flying Bach” will do the same. But you can’t deny it’s an enjoyable mashup.