Breakdance and beats go hand in hand, but one crew is turning the tradition on its head with a global tour set to classical music.
Seven B-boys from the Berlin-based, four-time world champion breakdancing crew Flying Steps team up with Swedish ballerina and acrobat Anna Holmstrom for "Red Bull Flying Bach," named for the energy drink company presenting the tour. The show features breaking, popping and locking, head spins, hand spins, footwork and acrobatics set to live piano and harpsichord accompaniment from Berlin-based opera director Christoph Hagel—who performs selections from Johann Sebastian Bach's "The Well-Tempered Clavier"—as well as explosive electronic remixes of Bach's preludes and fugues from jazz and hip-hop producers Ketan and Vivan Bhatti. A loose storyline explores conflicts between dancers during rehearsals for an upcoming competition and the improvement in the group's dynamic when a young lady (Holmstrom) arrives in the studio.
Chicago is the only U.S. stop for the high-energy, 70-minute show, which has sold out in Australia, Japan, Chile, Canada, Russia and several European cities. We checked in with four of the eight dancers by email to find out more.
Anna Holmstrom, 23
Lives in: Stockholm, though she's moving to Berlin and grew up in Lindesberg, Sweden.
Signature move: A cossack pirouette, a turn with her supporting leg bent beneath her and the other leg extended straight out. Her personal record is nine rotations.
Favorite music to warm up to: "It varies depending on my mood; I like almost all kinds of music. Though, before a show, I always play 'Nar vi graver guld i USA' (When we dig gold in the U.S.). It reminds me of how privileged I am to be able to work with something I really love and it makes me want to give everything I have on stage."
Best asset as a dancer: "To move across a space with high, explosive jumps. I really enjoy the feeling of being able to fly!"
Most daunting physical challenge: "To let go of the need to be in control every movement. I always try to reach further into movement and emotion."
Favorite off-stage shoes: Converse sneakers
An eye-opening moment about dance: "I was 17 and I had a late-night talk about my goals in life. It just clicked. I knew I wanted to dance. Later on, I've realized it's because when I dance, I am able to express my thoughts and feelings in a way I can't do in any other way."
Scariest performance moment: "When lifts go wrong and it looks like I'm going to fall to the ground. It looks scary, though I trust my partner totally and I know we will handle it without anyone getting injured."
Activity closest to her heart when not dancing: "I like to read or play different kinds of sports."
Michael Rosemann, aka Mikel, 37
Lives in: Berlin
Signature moves: The suicide. "This is a crazy move where you jump high up in the air and land on one shoulder."
Favorite music to warm up to: Red Hot Chili Peppers, Michael Jackson or The Chemical Brothers.
Best asset as a dancer: "I have very agile legs, so I am able to combine my footwork with acrobatic moves."
Most daunting physical challenge: "Constant condition[ing] in order to dance 70 minutes like I do with 'Red Bull Flying Bach.'"
Favorite off-stage shoes: Nike sneakers
An eye-opening moment about dance: "Listening to hip-hop music! When I am listening to it, my body moves and I can't stop it. When I am dancing I feel free and feel my body—this was something I wanted to do my whole life."
Scariest performance moment: "I once fell down very hard during a suicide. That was really scary because I didn't know if I broke something. Luckily, everything was fine."
Activity closest to his heart when not dancing: "I love to teach breakdancing to young people. To see how they develop and accompany them for some time on their way gives me a really good feeling."
Gengis Ademoski, aka Lil Ceng, 23
Lives in: Saarbrucken, Germany, though his family is Macedonian
Signature move: The air chair, a move balancing on one hand with both legs in the air.
Favorite music to warm up to: "Right now I am listing to Kendrick Lamar and A$AP Rocky. When I'm warming up I just listen to whatever fits to my mood, it could be hip-hop or jazz."
Best asset as a dancer: "To be yourself and to know your strength makes you outstanding."
Favorite off-stage shoes: "I love my Nike Air Max 1."
An eye-opening moment about dance: "There was no specific moment. Breakdance has always been my passion. I knew I could do nothing else but that. So I've trained very hard to become a professional since grade school."
Scariest performance moment: "There are plenty of them! Breakdance has a lot to do with physical control and strength. You always have to be concentrating when you are practicing—if you don't, you'll eventually get hurt."
Activity closest to his heart when not dancing: "I love to be with my family! Through the huge success of 'Red Bull Flying Bach,' I've been traveling a lot and the moments at home are very special ones."
Khaled Chaabi, aka KC-1, 27
Lives in: Berlin
Signature move: Head spins
Favorite music to warm up to: "I have Arabian roots ... [so] I often listen to Arabian music, but I also like all kinds of old school hip-hop."
Best asset as a dancer: "I am very diverse in my tastes. Besides B-boying, I ... [also do] hip-hop and popping and locking."
Most daunting physical challenge: "To dance on a professional level, you have to know your body. You need to know where your weak points are and train hard to overcome those weak points."
Favorite off-stage shoes: "All kinds of shoes! It really depends on the event."
An eye-opening moment about dance: "Since my childhood, I did various kinds of sports. I just loved to challenge my body. One day, I saw some of the guys from my neighborhood B-boying and I immediately wanted to try it myself. The feeling when you are dancing is a completely different one from any other activity. You feel free and can bring in a lot of your own personality."
Scariest performance moment: "I once did a head spin on a wet floor and totally lost touch with the floor."
Activity closest to his heart when not dancing: "Just being with my family and friends."