On Friday April 29, Breakin’ Convention welcome award-winning French hip hop crew Compagnie Niya with the full length work Gueules Noires. The title refers to the miners who choreographer Rachid Hedli pays a heartfelt tribute to. These migrant workers of the Nord-Pas de Calais Mining Basin, include his late father. Retracing life in the mines, Compagnie Niya’s superior breaking and popping skills illustrate heartfelt stories drawn from authentic narratives. Rachid Hedli tells us more.
This full-length work has been created using the stories and histories of your father and grandfather’s generations, the migrant workers who came to France from other countries to find employment and worked in the mines. Can you tell us about the people who inspired this piece and when and why you decided to create it?
My father was my inspiration. I wanted to pay tribute to him.
In 2004, when he became sicker and weak, this idea developed. During tidying my parents’ cellar, I came across old mining objects belonging to my father. His pickaxe, lamp, helmet, lunchbox and bag. He told me some stories about his work, his former workmates, coming to France with a small suitcase to find a job in the mines before bringing his family too, hoping for a better life. He always spoke to me about this past focusing on positive things, staying evasive about the rest.
I wanted to talk about these stories that he and I shared with many people here and wanted to share them with young people, with a new generation.
Tell us about your hip hop journey. When you started dancing and how you went on to form Compagnie Niya. Who are the dancers making up the crew
I wanted to become a dancer after seeing a performance by Mourad Merzouki at Douai (a city on the north of France). There were no studies for this, so I began in the streets with other dancers. I did many battles around the world (South Korea, Thailand, Algeria, Taiwan, Morocco, Greece etc) and participated at events like Battle Peace, Battle of the Year, le Juste Debout (prestigious French hip hop events). It was a really good training!
I continued to participate in these battles and at the same time, began with some dance companies. Farid’O was the first and also at the National Choreographic Centre of Roubaix with Carolyn Carlson (A celebrated American dancer, choreographer and poet now resident in France) etc.
Some years ago, after these experiences in 2011, I wanted to express myself and my ideas. With dancers who I met, danced and participated with in competitions and battles a long time ago, we created a little performance titled Censure which won awards and was selected for hip hop dance festival in San Francisco; this was the beginning of our company.
Have individual dancers added to the narrative of Gueules Noires?
At the beginning, I wanted to create a solo because that was my father’s story. But the most important thing for him was solidarity, fraternity, camaraderie and mutual assistance. The backgrounds of the miners were all different — Polish, Algerian, German… but all “Gueules Noires”. It made no difference whether all men had black faces..
It was impossible to express the fraternity, solidarity etc with a solo show, so I created Gueules Noires with dancers from my company and chose a composer who I knew. He accepted because this mining story is also his story. He grew up in a mining city. His family were also miners and he started the music in this place with an accordion.
It was perfect to work and to create together
How have audiences in France and internationally reacted to the piece?
Really really well. We received many nice testimonies, really good feedback and a nice sensitivity. There have always been a mix of generations and international feedback was really good too with many positive feelings expressed. This piece is really understandable for people, even if they have no idea about mining.
Dance is a universal language to share a story, we hope to build more opportunities to present this show internationally.
It seems like Hip Hop dance has been an ideal medium to create Gueules Noires, why do you think this is?
Hip hop dance is my way of expressing myself I think! But more seriously, I think because hip hop dance is a really sensitive dance form and a very current culture particularly for young people. I wanted to share this story with them, without forgetting older generations. Hip hop permits that: sharing this story with everybody.
Also, breakdancing is really perfect to express this work about mines and mining…on the floor, in narrow spaces. Lastly, It’s important for me to use hip hop dance as a way of expression. Beyond this work and achievement, it is deeply personal to me
What are you looking forward to about performing at Breakin’ Convention this year?
I want to see and to feel the public reaction.
They have some mines in UK too, not around London I know but across the country . It’s also a close story for the UK. I’m especially grateful to present Gueules Noires during Breakin’ Convention in memory of these workers.
I’m really impatient too off course! I want to be part of this festival, to discover it, to meet other dancers, to present Gueules Noires, to discover London — Such a rich and varied city. We are really lucky and happy!
Catch Compagnie Niya at Breakin’ Convention on April 29th 2022.
For more information and tickets visit www.breakinconvention.com