The Hip-Hop Heaviness of Yassin Mrabtifi
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because Weight Watchers is for nondancers.
By Eugene S. Robinson
You probably have no idea who Wim Vandekeybus is. But that’s why you’re here and that’s why we’re here. The Belgian artist is a longtime choreographer and filmmaker, and for 25 years he’s been the creative force behind the Ultima Vez dance company. And when he went looking for a performer for his 2014 dance and film piece, Talk to the Demon, it was the unlikely Yassin Mrabtifi whom he picked from a field of 700 possibles. The result is a case of genius talking to genius.
Because it may be that Vandekeybus knows a few things about a few things: He’s won two Bessies for groundbreaking work in dance, and his film Monkey Sandwich, based on a dance performance, appeared at the 2011 Venice International Film Festival. And when he spied Mrabtifi, Vandekeybus correctly guessed that he was seeing something special. Mrabtifi honed his chops in the long and wide hallways of Brussels’ Galerie Ravenstein shopping center and, when chased out of there, on the streets. Entirely self-taught, Mrabtifi made up a style that worked for his body: part African dance, part hip-hop and krump, part traditional Asian dances.
… it’s the wholly unique, feel-good experience of the big man breaking loose.
Even though Mrabtifi’s style mash-up is not that different from prevailing currents in contemporary dance, Mrabtifi, undisputed heavyweight that he is, didn’t get many calls to perform. He’s not built with the lithe or compact frame we expect in male dancers — think more wrestler. “When you’re a big, solid guy with a beard and moreover Muslim, no one believes that you’re a dancer,” Mrabtifi told Belgian TV channel één. He hails from the predominantly Muslim Moroccan community of Molenbeek, and has had to push back against a culture that largely frowns upon dance as a professional pursuit.
Talk to the Demon is currently touring Europe through February 2015.
So Mrabtifi has been carving out his own way, participating in small, art-house productions, street performances and touring with his hip-hop choreography. In the clip below, you get a sense of how much presence he brings to the stage in Talk to the Demon — whether it’s in small, precise motions or broad, powerful gestures, what makes the performance noteworthy is the wholly unique, feel-good experience of the big man breaking loose.
“Dance is about the possibilities of physical liberation,” said German art critic Andreas Busche. “I don’t like hip-hop dance very typically, but I like what Mrabtifi does. Which is, in essence, not giving a shit that he is fat.”
Or pretty much what the great Jackie Gleason once said: “Thin people are beautiful, but fat people are adorable.” He most certainly is.