Photo: Swaggers©Dati Photography
In The Middle claims to celebrate a new generation of leading female hip-hop dancers. In the show, Marion Motin and the Swaggers make hip hop look easy. I am almost hopeful of attaining some of their moves. I’d still need flexibility and agility, but maybe I don’t even need to be athletic. The ladies sway and dance without doing stunts. The moves don’t seem to strain the body. The legs still do a lot of work and may take a toll, but maybe only the soles of the feet and the knees are overworked. The dance is very contemporary. You feel that you may have seen something similar at popular dance shows or pop concerts. Motin has been a dancer for Madonna on tour, so we can trust that she has her eye on what kind of dance draws crowds.
Motin shows her larger than life personality. She appears first and sings alone a song in English that warns the boys not to mess with her. When she feels the audience response is lukewarm, she out-and-out demands a better reaction. The audience can’t refuse her. We clap along, quickly gathering more momentum in our applause, increasing our enthusiasm for what comes next. A lot of what she says to the audience is in French, and they respond, laughing at her jokes. There was a large French speaking contingent in the audience because the show was a French May event.
In the male dominated business of hip hop dancing, Motin, a choreographer and dancer, created her company, Swaggers. The seven ladies swagger onto stage and show their brand of fun hip hop. One still sees the occasional moonwalk, ubiquitous in hip hop. But, there’s none of the roughness we typically see in all-male groups hip-hopping on the streets and in dance video clips. The Swaggers stay in the groove, pay attention to its energy levels, and vary the style according to the tempo.
Photo: Swaggers©Dati Photography
Their promotion flyer states, “Marion Motin uses spotlights to mimic the flashing lights of cameras in order to intensify the atmosphere.” She may have given a lot of thought to the lighting, but she doesn’t overdo it. The dancers, wearing body-hugging suits and brown hats, are silhouetted by subtle lighting, moving furtively like figures one glimpses at night sporadically passing under street lamps. The moving bodies, sometimes dim, sometimes brighter, softly radiate giving a touch of mystery and thrill. In one scene, four slim beams of lights projecting from top left and right, and bottom left and right, shine diagonally towards the center of the stage, but after reaching about a third-way across the stage, the lights break off, short of the intended point of intersection. Interestlying, the beams of light point the audience’s attention to the almost eerie images and ghostly motion of the dancers in the dark center of the stage. It is a rare emotional moment in the performance, stirring a combination of anxiety, tension, and expectation as a group, which at first sight looks like men, emerges from the darkness. If alone on a road at night and seeing something similar, I would be very worried and frightened . These distinct light beams are used very selectively throughout the performance. Towards the end, the light morphs into a range of colors from red, green, orange, turquoise, and purple.
In the house program for In The Middle, Motin is credited with creating intensive group synergy that avoids the trap of uniformity. Indeed, without any en masse uniform movements, as the dancers move – each in her own way seemingly self-absorbed in her own self – they remain highly conscious of one another, joining hands and stepping smoothly into new formations. For anyone who is lyrically inclined, the additional English and French songs towards the end of the show should satisfy. As promised by the description in the flyer, the show provides “a multitude of emotions, encounters, stages, as well as music, images, gestures.” Certainly, all these elements culminate in an enjoyable and energetic evening of music and dance.
Selina Tng is an occasional contributor to dance journal/hk. She is now pursuing a postgraduate diploma course in media and culture.
Le French May: In the Middle
Dance Company: Marion Motin & the Swaggers
Performance: 19 May 2017 20:00 Theatre, Sheung Wan Civic Centre