• 7 August 2006

This article is from 2006.

Bruno Beltrao talks to Kelly Apter about the fusion of contemporary dance and hip hop that informs his Festival programme.

Bruno Beltrao set off on a learning curve and found himself coming full circle. The 26-year-old Brazilian choreographer has been exploring the language of hip hop for 13 years, studying it from every angle. For the impressionable teenager it was love at first sight " the strength and power of top rock, headspins and windmills capturing his imagination. Forming his own company, Grupo de Rua de Niterói at 16, Beltrao went on to win competitions throughout Brazil. Then, in 2000, as his thirst for knowledge grew, Beltrao turned his back on what he terms ‘the tricks’ of breakdance.

Enrolling at university in Rio de Janeiro, he discovered that life outside the breakdance fraternity had much to offer. ‘I was thrown into the arts world where I was in contact with contemporary dance, philosophy and history - and that was the turning point,’ explains Beltrao. ‘I learned to take a step back from hip hop, to analyse the structure and process and explore how it could be transformed.’

Taking this new found knowledge back to his dance company, Beltrao met with resistance. Breakdancers, he discovered, want to dance, not sit around for hours philosophising. Eventually his chance came, when an invitation to perform at a contemporary dance festival gave Beltrao the theatrical platform he craved. ‘They wanted us to do a duet,’ he explains. ‘And I was shocked, because in Brazil at that time there were never less than 25 people on stage during a hip hop show. You had to be spectacular not virtuoso.’

The result was From Popping to pop or vice-versa which, along with Telesquat, will form the first half of Beltrao’s International Festival programme. Exploring how television changes our perception of live theatre, Telesquat will be performed over six nights with either the aforementioned duet, solo work Me and my choreographer in 63 or the slightly tongue in cheek Too Legit to Quit.

From there, Grupo de Rua de Niterói moves to the rather more spacious Edinburgh Playhouse for H2. Created in 2005, the show features 12 of Brazil’s finest streetdancers tracked down by Beltrao during a country-wide search. Having turned his back on large-scale hip hop shows, Beltrao had spent five years creating works with no more than a handful of dancers. H2 signalled his return to the fold, an acceptance of hip hop as a viable artform.

Taking the four standard elements of any hip hop show - DJ, MC (rapper), breakdancing and graffiti - Beltrao has added a fifth dimension, space. The ordinarily fixed area of a hip hop performance has been opened out to incorporate the entire stage. The words ‘hip hop loves the beat of the music’ appear on a large screen, and as the dance progresses the phrase disappears one word at the time.

H2 is more mature,’ says Beltrao. ‘We’ve come back to the physicality of hip hop and no longer deny its strength and power. Contemporary dance has a lot to teach hip hop and hip hop has a lot to teach contemporary dance. They’re different worlds with different ideas and values, and I’m completely comfortable with that.’

Telesquat, The Hub, 473 2000, 14-19 Aug, 8pm, £15. H2, Edinburgh Playhouse, 22&23 Aug, 8pm, £6.50-£17.50.

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