A TALK WITH NIELS "STORM" ROBITZKY
now existed for around thirty years as an international movement between street
and theatre, social project and art. Katrin Roschangar of corpus and the renowned
Berlin HipHopper Niels "Storm" Robitzky who teaches at ImPulsTanz, talked about
techniques and philosophy, competition and injuries, women and regionalisms in
corpus: Could one say that HipHop has
developed from the street to stage dance?
Storm: No. HipHop is a culture. And the
dances of this culture have long been there. Among them are dances which never
were intended to be stage dances. For instance, Swing and Tap had a great
influence on HipHop.
corpus: Wasn't it a problem for you to take
HipHop to the stage?
Storm: Actually, we were on the stage from
the beginning. It's just that we ourselves decided what should be our stage. An
example: William Shakespeare's first theatre was a street theatre. It took
place on a sand area next to the Thames. He didn't open a theatre first to
perform his pieces. Theatre is theatre, one shouldn't make that depend on any
buildings. That's a too imperialistic thought.
corpus: You were one of those who brought
HipHop to the theatre – at least in Germany.
Storm: If we're talking about theatre as
an institution, you're right.
corpus: Was it frowned upon in the scene
when people started to go on stage or to teach?
Storm: I've never been attacked because of
my theatre performances. When people see what I'm doing then they also realise
that it wouldn't be possible anywhere else. In the theatre I can concentrate
fully on art. That's hardly possible at other events because they're often just
about five minute demonstrations. In the theatre you can work with entirely
different means, e.g., with a dramaturgy.
corpus: What topics do you take up in your
pieces? Do social issues play a great role in your performances?
Storm: It varies. One and a half years ago
I did a piece in Berlin which was more a social project. I worked with youths
from Neukölln and Paris. It was called "Es war einmal …" (Once upon a time …),
a modern metropolis tale. I wanted to reach the Berlin Kiez and tansport the
positive fundamental idea of HipHop. If one's thinking of HipHop one mostly
thinks of Gangsta Rap or vandalism. That's bullshit. People sell their records
with it, but it doesn't reflect what HipHop culture has to offer. Another piece
we're performing next week in Greece is called "Geometronomics", and the
"Discípulos do Ritmo" from Brazil will dance my choreography.
corpus: You also did a piece with classical
Storm: That's my new solo. I'm currently
working on it. At the moment it's more or less in the stage of improvisation.
corpus: Does the city of Berlin support
Storm: Partly. I would appreciate better
support. One of the reasons may be that I'm not so often in Berlin. On the
other hand, HipHop – especially in Germany – is still seen as youth culture and
often as a means for drug and violence prevention programmes. In the 1990s,
these took hold so well that we made all youths dancers. (laughs)
corpus: So it's not just a cliché that
HipHop gets young people off the street?
Storm: The fact is that it works better
than other things. But I don't know why.
corpus: Do you have a good connection with
Storm: I can deal with them well.
Especially if someone's considered to be difficult. I like it when people have
lots of energy. Maybe they need more attention, but in the long run they also
deliver more. Sleepy heads are much more difficult because you have to play the
corpus: How do you get information about
the newest moves or currents?
Storm: First, I travel a lot – and second,
I think that many currents originate with me. I work on myself every day, I
give courses and meet friends. My friends tell me when I'm off course with a
thing, and then I let it go again.
corpus: How does a movement come into
Storm: Through training and often through
external influences. Everything that moves inspires me. It sometimes also
happens that I see movements in ballet which I can process.
corpus: How does the HipHop vocabulary come
up, the terms? E.g., you talked about the "corkscrew" yesterday. How does a
specific term get spread about so that every HipHopper knows what a "corkscrew"
Storm: It's important to know what one's
talking about when one talks on the telephone to each other or doesn't want to
dance just then. So the conversational partner has an inkling what you mean.
corpus: You're on the road a lot – do you
see any differences in HipHop of different regions?
Storm: Well, not really. Nowadays, with
the Internet and heaps of DVDs, I even get the feeling that the personal note
goes down the drain. It used to be different ten years ago. The Swedes hat their
special handwriting, the French too, just like we in Berlin had ours, and there
was a certain New York style.
corpus: The Battle – is it still a common
Storm: Certainly. Only "Battle" meanwhile
sounds somewhat unfashionable. After all, a Battle is nothing but an exchange.
I mean, if I meet with Attila and we're making music and letting go, we
actually just show each other what we've been working on during the last year.
This doesn't necessarily mean that we want to outdo each other. HipHop likes
exaggerations in language. We call our movements "Power Moves" or "Freezes",
it's all pretty exaggerated. It's gotta sound like that …! (laughs)
corpus: So it's not about taking each
Storm: Well, it is for sure. Many
presenters organise dance competitions in which one group runs against another
and they try to do each other in. The winner then goes home with 100 Euros.
corpus: Let's talk about women and HipHop.
Many women come to your lessons, but as far as I've seen the videos on your
website only show men dancing.
Storm: There's a lot of women in HipHop,
and my wife is one of them. Probably you haven't seen the video: There was a
show called "The Art of Urban Dance" and … okay, we didn't really have fifty-fifty.
Sonja and Klara took part.
corpus: Is HipHop a domain of men?
Storm: Yes, it is. But I wish there were
more women into it. In America the ratio is a bit better than here. For a while
it was really bad. In the 1980s I had the feeling that when you went to a
HipHop jam you landed in some men-only clubs. In the meantime, there's a lot of
BGirls, too. Really good women who are also able to stand up to most men
technically. Owing to that, the style develops in another direction.
corpus: How has your style changed through
the injuries you sustained from dancing?
Storm: Insofar as nowadays I concentrate
more on Popping. Especially in BBoying one deteriorates and cannot keep up the
standards. I'm nearly 39 now and I can still teach well, but I don't turn on my
head any more and rarely do any acrobatic stunts. Not because I couldn't do
them but because I'm not developing in my stunts any more. On the other hand, I
have too much respect for the movements. You can't do them a bit slacker if you
don't have so much energy. It just doesn't work in BBoying. If you're tired the
danger of injury is bigger. And if I'm getting injured today this also means
that I can't feed my family any more. That's one thing. But what's even more
important for me: I have a lot of fun at training. With Popping I feel that I'm
getting better with age. How I see it today I can still do it when I'm eighty.
When I sustained an injury at BBoying, I cured it with Popping. The isolation
exercises help one to make the muscles supple again.
corpus: What else apart from the steps do
you want to convey in your lessons?
Storm: Much more than the steps. Actually,
the steps are a minor point. For the dancers, the philosophy is much more
corpus: What then is the philosophy of
Storm: Now I could go into detail and we
wouldn't be done by tomorrow. There's no such thing as the one HipHop
philosophy. The dance styles I'm teaching (Popping, Locking and BBoying) were
all created up at different times in different places. This means that the
music is different, the fashion is different, and the whole approach to dance
is completely different.
it's important to try to impersonate a puppet, a cartoon character or a robot.
The dancer looks as if his body was made of rubber or water. He makes movements
which aim at a non-human effect and create an illusion. That takes a lot of
work. It has a lot to do with precision mechanics and fine motor skills. And
every little sub-style, e.g., Waving, is something completely different from dancing
Puppet or Electric Boogaloo. And every little peculiarity has another approach.
Moreover, the music is entirely different.
either zany or emphatically cool. One can dress as a clown in Locking or wear a
smart suit; both work.
came up in the Ghettos of New York in the 1970s. We're talking about Concrete
Jungle philosophy there. No matter where they happened to be, people basically
had to watch out that they didn't look like victims. This also became apparent
in dance. That's why the dance looks like martial arts.
corpus: How deeply do you still feel
connected with this origin?
Storm: That depends on what I want to show
on the stage. When I'm going to a HipHop jam I'm bound to the old school format
rather more than with a theatre piece. But fresh impulses also create new
corpus: And how strongly is your teaching
connected with your pieces?
Storm: Not at all. Maybe I'm indicating a
new direction now and then. But basically I want to reach the participants of
my courses just like HipHop reached me.
corpus: A final question: Where do you see
the future of HipHop? In what direction will it develop?
Storm: Hard to say. I hope that the market
will promote the good people more. For a long time, I believed that HipHop was
a new branch of Jazz. And for me Jazz is intelligent music. Whenever I hear
what's going in the charts and what people associate with HipHop that's really
painful. Especially since I have to defend myself every day. Therefore I would
wish that its quality became better. But still even the best Jazz musicians
don't earn lots of money – as opposed to some pop stars who look a bit sexy and
yell into a microphone.