Man (Hamid Ben Mahi) holding a clay lantern with smoke arising from it

REVIEW

Hamid Ben Mahi: Chronic(s) 2

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Hamid Ben Mahi, Chronics (2). Photo © Pierre Planchenault
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Charles A. Catherine
Revisiting a work twenty years on, hip hop dance artist Hamid Ben Mahi finds that the fundamental things still apply, as time goes by

Time goes by for everyone, even dancers. Hip hop seems forever young, but it appeared in the eighties, and its early choreographers are now in their late forties. Time to tell their stories?

All through his career, French choreographer Hamid Ben Mahi has conversed with the audience to question the identity of the dancer, often through his own experience. In 2001 – a world away, it seems now – he created Chronic(s) with the dramaturge Michel Schweitzer, an hour long, half-spoken half-danced solo about his beginnings: parents, learning dance, society and its biases about street culture. In 2021, Chronic(s) 2 returns with the same structure, the same will to offer the authenticity of Ben Mahi’s gaze on his work and society, this time reflecting on his experience, his sons, teaching dance. Looking to the future in 2001, to the past in 2021? It’s not that simple.

In both works, the stage is a laboratory for memory: a screen where private and historical pictures come from a suspended film projector, a remote control, a microphone stand, a square of light. Ben Mahi talks with humour and gravity of what he’s done and wants to do. There are common topics: expressing oneself, living dance, transmitting it, that very delicate sensibility that gives him his specificity. His dance reveals his high level classical training after being self-taught in hip hop from television: a dégagé exercise at the barre slips into spins on the floor, with fascinating body control. In each work, he doesn’t structure a biography but draws a mental and physical landscape through which he drives us with softness and energy.

What remains, after twenty years, according to Chronic(s) 2? An anxiety to leave his mark on time – to which he answers by dancing for us. A few wrinkles don’t hide his unchanged controlled moves, his true humility, the pleasure of his conversation on stage.

The same sentence ends Chronic(s) and opens Chronic(s) 2: ‘To stay here, I have to find solutions.’ This feels not so much like a problem as a joyful lifeline.

The bottom line: A sweet walk in time and space that proves hip hop too is conscious of its ephemeral nature
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02 February 2021, Théâtre d'Angoulême, France
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Direction, conception, choreography, scenography: Hamid Ben Mahi, Michel Schweizer / Performed by: Hamid Ben Mahi / Lighting design: Antoine Auger / Sound design: Nicolas Barillot, Sébastien Lamy / Photography: Pierre Wetzel, Ludovic Alussi, l’Oeil de Ken, Nicolas Moulin / Production: Compagnie Hors Série / Coproduction: La Manufacture – Centre de Développement Chorégraphique National Nouvelle-Aquitaine Bordeaux / La Rochelle/Théâtre la passerelle, scène nationale de Gap, des Alpes du Sud/La Scène Nationale Carré-Colonnes, Bordeaux Métropole

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