CN D Magazine

#6 june 24

Pop, Electro, Olympic: A Haute Culture Parade

Zineb Soulaimani


Christophe Berlet

Rehearsal with the duo of choreographers Mazelfreten © Christophe Berlet

The Olympic summer promises to be not only athletic, but also artistic. In addition to the opening and closing ceremonies, a series of events grouped under the “Cultural Olympiad” label is already being programmed across France, and will continue to intensify right up to the Games. In Seine-Saint-Denis, eight performing arts venues have dreamed up an ambitious project: a giant, carnival-like parade with thirteen parts orchestrated by artists from all disciplines, with over a thousand non-professional participants. Ahead of the parade, scheduled for late June, CN D Magazine followed the making of a segment led by a duo of choreographers. Together, with a group of volunteers, they will carry the flame of hip-hop dance and a lesser-known genre: electro.

On an early May evening, some forty participants gather in the Centre National de la Danse’s large studio. Some have just finished their work day and are heading to the changing rooms, while others are already in comfortable outfits ready to participate in the rehearsal, the second of six organized by Mazelfreten. Behind this mysterious name are two artists, both performers and choreographers: hip-hopper Laura Defretin and electro dancer Brandon Masele.

For the time being, Miel – Masele’s nickname – is alone at the helm of this work session, which he begins with an introduction. “The dance I practice was born on French soil,” he explains, before showing a series of teasers, complete with a video projector and screen. “It was born at clubs in and around Paris, first at Métropolis with the Tecktonik evenings in 2002, then at the Mix Club in Montparnasse,” adds Masele, a self-taught dancer known for his voluble arm movements. In 2009, the dance form was largely shunned by many clubbers after being turned into a trademark and getting some bad buzz in national media, though it would later remerge underground and be rebaptized with the name “electro,” and before eventually becoming part of the battle scene.

Miel has made the transmission of this dance, still quite niche and seldom practiced today, an important issue within the Mazelfreten company. “This year we gave over 1,000 hours of workshops,” he affirms. So it’s only natural that the duo, founded in 2018, should accept the challenge of today’s rehearsal: to choreograph one of the thirteen parts of a gigantic parade entitled On ne va pas se défiler! (meaning: “We won’t rain on your parade”) with a group of non-professional dancers who are curious about urban dance.

At 7:50pm it’s now time to get down to business. In the form of “speed dance dating,” duos form and explore different parts of the body. First, head movements only, then the arms, the pelvis, and finally the legs. Miel reassures participants, saying “it doesn’t matter what your level in dance is, it’s the constraints we set for ourselves that will allow us to be creative.” The inter-generational group – from 19 to 64 years of age – remains apprehensive after viewing the videos, in particular that of Rave Lucid, Mazelfreten's first group piece, whose grammar the parade-in-preparation will borrow from. It’s a refined movement vocabulary made up of hybridizations of the two creators’ dances.

During the introductory rehearsal, many of the non-professional participants expressed their interest in all forms of dance – ballet, contemporary, jazz, though not all are regulars in amateur dance classes. “I dance at parties and concerts. I love it!” laughs Clément, a 37-year-old, who works for an entertainment venue in Pantin. “It’s usually my job to organize them, but never to participate,” explains Clément of why he was keen to join the parade. “It’s the first time I’ve taken part in a participatory project like this.”

Zineb Soulaimani, originally from France and Morocco, has long been a project leader within national cultural institutions, and she has worked for the French Embassy in China. Her attention to the performing arts, performance and visual arts, as well as her interest in what the humanities can bring to artistic creation, have led her to create the podcast Le Beau Bizarre in 2021 – a long conversation with artists, curators or scholars working in today’s cultural landscape. She also works for Mouvement magazine and Le Quotidien de l’art.

Christophe Berlet is a self-taught French-Thai photographer. He lives and works in Paris. He considers photography as a means to be open to others, a testimony, and both a personal and collective repository of memory. Photography allows him to find balance between introspection and an openness to the world. His practice of sport gives him a privileged relationship with movement and the body. Today, at a turning point in his photographic practice, he is developing long-term reports in which he raises themes that are directly connected to his life, such as the quest for meaning or the search for his origins.

On ne va pas se défiler !
June 23 starting from Aubervilliers’ city hall to Pantin’s city hall 
Learn more

Rave lucid 
Choreography: Mazelfreten
June 19 at Théâtre National de Bretagne as part of the CCN de Rennes (Under)ground festival

Choreography: Mazelfreten and the académie Fratellini
June 19, 22 and 26 at Gennevilliers with T2G