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Interview with Compagnie Dyptik

Founded in 2012 by two breakdancers, Souhail Marchiche and Mehdi Meghari, Compagnie Dyptik,  based in St. Etienne, France, has been developing choreographic works based upon hip hop values in dialogue with other disciplines.

On October 3 and 4, they will premiere an adapted version of their work Dans l'engrenage (Literally: In the Gear)  at New York City Center's Fall For Dance Festival 2019, and then, at Colby College, CT. 

Before leaving for New York, Medhi and Souhail, answered our questions.

Bonjour Mehdi and Souhail,

Nicole:  Tell us how the collective Dyptik was formed. How did you discover hip-hop? And why Dyptik rather than Dyptych? What is your approach to hip hop forms and breakdance?

Dyptik: We discovered hip-hop together at the end of the 90s. We entered in this culture through breakdance, which in our eyes was the perfect discipline: athletic, expressive, challenging and accessible to anyone. Back then, this type of dance was not yet taught in dance schools but only through exchange  with others. Hence we made our first steps in the streets. Everyone could develop their own language; the possibilities were endless. Soon this dialogue, which is unique, different to each and universal at the same time, allowed us to meet many people coming from very different cultures and backgrounds, and to travel, as the language barrier was no longer an obstacle. Being powerful and very sincere, body language fascinates us. We like to study it, observe it, deform it, caricature it, nurture it, enrich it, adapt it...

We started off with break dance and other hip hop dance styles, then we opened ourselves to other aesthetics. Our dance is in perpetual motion, evolution and mutation.

Because we work as a duo and strongly complement each other, the name Dyptique in French came pretty naturally. We then wanted to modify it to give it a more hybrid touch, reflecting our dance and our company, so it became Dyptik

Nicole:  Who are the dancers who accompany you and how do you work together? And more specifically for the piece Dans l’Engrenage, which we will soon see?

Dyptik: The dancers who accompany us are artists with whom we have been working for several years and who share our values, our visions and especially our desire to push and challenge ourselves.

For Dans l’engrenage we worked and exchanged with artists outside the collective who could nurture our artistic process. We insisted a lot on emotion, on committing the body as much to the piece's movements as to its themes  -- it explores the frantic race for success and tackles the topic of revolt -- to give a powerful and sincere performance.

Nicole: In St-Etienne where you are based, you have developed many activities with the festival Trax and the opening of your studio. Tell us about these experiences – how did they enrich you creatively and in regards to the development of your action?

Dyptik: We had actually created Les Studios Dyptik as a space for research and experimentation for our artistic creations but we also wanted to make it a place where hip-hop choreographers can find resources and support.

Every year we support and welcome around ten dance collectives. We also wanted to establish a special event dedicated to hip-hop dance with Le Festival Trax. We offer an eclectic and singular program and above all, a celebratory and creative moment that we wish to share with audiences and artists.  With a place of research and experimentation and the festival,  we can welcome and meet numerous artists who are at different stages in their projects. We can nurture and inspire each other. That is how we continue to grow - through exchange.

Those spaces and those events are also an opportunity for us to invite artists to collaborate, explore and confront their artistic work with ours in the choreographic lab but also to give them a "carte blanche" during our festival. 

Nicole: Several of your pieces can be presented in public space. How do you approach public space, the space of hip-hop and break dance?

Dyptik: Public space is a very fascinating place to work in because the relationship to the audience is very different. What is interesting to us is that the spectator truly takes part in the spectacle and that the interaction with artists creates sincere, powerful and moving exchanges that will strengthen and nurture the dancer’s performance. This also allows the audience to experience a special and very emotional moment, as close as you can get to the process of creation and to the performers.

It’s true that having witnessed the birth of hip-hop in the streets and having started dancing in public spaces ourselves has reinforced our desire to present our pieces there.

Nicole: Which one of your recent experiences that influenced your creative work was the most formative? What is your next project?

Dyptik: One of the most formative recent experiences was our journey to the occupied territories in  Palestine, especially our encounter with its peoples and more specifically in refugee camps whose “inhabitants” are constricted by an imposed system. Despite this ever-present oppression, they showed us an unexpected strength and a desire to live freely and happily. We were touched by their capacity to create little spaces of freedom for themselves though art, to emancipate themselves, to wander...

We also met traditional dance collectives made up of children, who danced their touching story with a lot of joy... This contrast between the reality those people were living and their state of mind was baffling.

If the aesthetic of the postures and the engagement of the body of the traditional palestinian dances inpired Dans l'Engrenage, this human capacity to create spaces of freedom, even in the most complex and most oppressing situations, will inspire our next project, which will see the light of day in 2021. 

Nicole: Do you know American hip-hop artists? What appeals to you about Urban art and American culture?

Dyptik: Of course we know a lot of American hip-hop artists but none in person. With hip-hop being born in the States, in our early days we formed thanks to the first VHS tapes coming from the States that we found! So American Urban Art made us want to dance and allowed us to come into being, but very soon we embarked on our own artistic path.

Interview by Nicole Birmann Bloom and  translation in English by Natalie Komissarova