The United States has garnered a consistent reputation as a leader in cultural sway, holding its top position as the globe’s most influential country in U.S. News & World Report‘s 2018 Best Countries rankings (even as we slipped painfully behind in nearly all other categories). So it should come as no surprise that the world’s leading dancers and choreographers have historically gazed west when looking to broaden their creative horizons; luminaries such as Pina Bausch, Ohad Naharin, and Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker have all pointed to their American residencies as artistic wellsprings for the discovery of their creative approaches. Next week, UCSB Arts & Lectures will host back-to-back expressions of our growing influence in the global cultural conversation, with two groundbreaking French dance companies inspired by les Américains.
On Tuesday, February 6, choreographer Kader Attou and the all-male cast of 11 dancers that compose his hip-hop dance company Accrorap will make their West Coast debut with The Roots, storming the Granada stage with their hypnotic approach to the art of urban street dancing. Born and raised in Lyon, France, Attou describes his smooth and understated style as “drawing from the generosity of [hip-hop] in order to discover new paths.” The motive behind his method, he stresses, is “to build bridges and create links and a sort of dialogue beyond and through our differences.” In 2008, Attou’s dedication to expanding the knowledge and scope of this intricate dance style earned him the title of director of the National Center for Choreography in La Rochelle; he became the first hip-hop choreographer in the country to lead such an influential platform in dance. In The Roots, Attou scales back to his quiet beginnings, when he and a group of neighborhood friends would spend stretches of their summer holidays huddled around his living room, showing off the daredevil acrobatics they’d honed from an area circus school. Attou’s full-circle homage to the origin of his creative spark is also a poignant reminder of the significance of his accomplishments. Dance colleague Jean-Paul Montanari sums it up nicely: “He is one of the few French choreographers to do a job without [classical] roots, only in the memory of what he is.”
Following on Accrorap’s heels, on Wednesday, February 7, is the beloved French-Canadian troupe Cirque Éloize, a dynamic force in physical theater whose imaginative resistance to the trappings of genre categorization has also led it to become one of the leaders in a global circus-arts reinvention movement. This season, it’s pulling from the raucous and trailblazing spirit of the American Wild West to bring audiences Saloon, a theatrical tour de force that marries slapstick with dazzling athleticism, underscoring the company’s wide-reaching range and appeal. Artistic Director Jeannot Painchaud says the company’s kinship with this slice of Americana is due to a similar “fundamental commitment to moving forward, toughness, the survival instinct, a tendency for irreverence, and a sharing sense of community.” In true Cirque Éloize style, all 11 artists will flex their ambidextrous prowess as they blaze through their roles as actors, aerialists, singers, and musicians; Saloon will include live musical accompaniment, with songs from Johnny Cash and Patsy Cline serving as a foot-tapping backdrop to the company’s striking aerial choreography on Chinese pole, Korean plank, Cyr wheel, and aerial straps.
At a time when the world’s confidence over our country’s leadership has hit a staggering low, the arts have positioned themselves as global ambassadors to the U.S.’s noteworthy cultural contributions, transcending government and reminding us all that a country’s lasting appeal is based on the influence of its inhabitants. You don’t want to miss this dance revolution.
UCSB’s Arts & Lectures presents Kader Attou’s Compagnie Accrorap Tuesday, February 6, 8 p.m., and Cirque Éloize Wednesday, February 7, 7 p.m., both at The Granada Theatre (1214 State St.). Call (805) 893-3535 or visit artsandlectures.ucsb.edu.