High on Bach: The Breakdancing Black Swans of Chicago

I haven’t been to the ballet since my parents brought me to The Nutcracker during the holidays when I was like six. I believe we left during intermission because I intentionally fell asleep in hopes of visions of sugar plums dancing in my head. Didn’t happen. Later in life, I’d find myself attending University of the Arts where I majored in Musical Theater, which is essentially majoring in social suicide. (This was long before Glee.) Anyway, it was all fun and gaymes (hehe) until ballet class, a required course that haunted me more than being forced to dissect a moldy cat in high school anatomy class. I did not sign up for this mess! I packed on the freshman fifteen (maybe thirty…) and I was suddenly being shrieked at to sashay my fat ass across the dance floor in tights whilst the pianist twinkled out classical music! I could deal with the (always bloody) ballet slippers and tights, but the real nightmarish deal breaker was the “dance belt” aka a MAN THONG. Your mom brought you school shopping to Target for binders and Martha Stewart shower curtains, mine brought me man thong shopping. Meanwhile, I just wanted to major in pop star!! Pelvic thrusting, shimmying, etc. THAT’S MY JAM. In other words, I’m now a proud musical theater college dropout.

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So, yeah, I was certain anything remotely “classical” had forever damaged me. This weekend, that all changed. I found myself at Chicago’s historic and gorgeous Civic Opera House to attend the opening of Red Bull Flying Bach. You read that right. The press release explained that four-time breakdance world champions aptly known as The Flying Steps would “combine contemporary hip-hop power moves with live classical music.” WHAT! I live for break-dancing. It’s so spectacular and impressive and frightening, especially when the kids on the L train decide to go HAM on the subway poles. In the past, I related attending a ballet with taking too much Xanax, but Flying Bach gave me wings — aka it was presented by Red Bull, which meant I sipped vodka (blueberry!) red bulls whilst watching the show, most of the time with my jaw perma-dropped as a result of the killer choreography. The show gave me (so much) life, as the kids these days say. Guests wore suits and cocktail dresses whilst cheering like it was a hip-hop concert, ooh-ing and ahh-ing like it was a wild magic show. I watched as seven very good-looking male break dancers popped and locked and frenetically twirled on their heads to Bach and electro beats. I’m not kidding. It’s really difficult to explain the amazingness of it all. Lots of goosebumps happened. It gave me West Side Story (there’s a love story!) meets Stomp vibes. And in a sea of dudes, there was Swedish dancer Anna Holmström, who mixed it up by adding in ballet perfection (those leaps!) before (spoiler alert) joining the boys to break-dance her booty off for the explosive finale. In other words, y’all really need to head over to the OMFG adrenaline-exploding life-giving experience that is Red Bull Flying Bach. The final shows are this weekend in Chicago — get the golden tickets right here, right now.


Post-show, I hit up the backstage where I fanned out/attempted flirting with The Flying Steps. I also chatted with the leading lady, the spectacular sizzling superstar aka Anna Holmström. Check out our cute chit-chat below. And, forreal, open another credit card, grab a few Red Bull and get thee to Chicago!!! Feel more than free to thank me later.


Opening night!! How did you think it went?

Good! We got a lot of good responses from the audience. Even when I was not on stage, I was listening and checking out how they were reacting. We had standing ovations! That’s usually a good sign.

Any pre-show rituals?

I think everyone has his or her own ways of warming up, but I usually do a ballet bar, some stretching, and some hip-hop moves to get into the ending routines from the show.

Was breakdancing easy for you?

No, it’s not easy! I’m getting bruises everywhere. But with these guys, it’s easy to exchange movements. Also, the contemporary flow has some similarities to breaking on the floor. I’ve always been fascinating by breakdancing since I was a kid. For me, this project is perfect. I’ve been learning a lot.

Do you get along with the guys?

Yeah, we do! It’s like having seven brothers. Depending on situations, they’re bigger brothers or smaller brothers. We’re having a lot of fun.

You’re the only female in the show. Did you feel the pressure to stand out?

I think it’s important to know that I’m me. I’m not copying and trying to be a guy, it’s important to show my own originality in myself. I’m actually feeling like Beyoncé or Madonna when I go on stage, especially at the end of the show when I breakdance. To give a lot of power! They know who they are when they’re on stage. I’m just having a lot of fun.

So, is the Black Swan terrifyingly competitive vibes of a ballerina’s life true?

There’s not so many jobs — that’s the truth. And of course you’re competing amongst your friends to get the same job. But I’ve never felt bad if I wouldn’t get a job if I knew that I did all I could. And if I know that my friend is better than me and she got the job, I would be happy for her. Of course, if I feel that I did a better job, I would be angry. But sometimes they’re looking for someone with blonde hair or dark hair and blue eyes… so I think that instead of using the competition in a negative way, you can use it to get better and just think of always improving. It’s really nice in breakdancing, because when I’m watching them practice, they’re a little bit competitive but not in a negative way. They’re just trying to make themselves better.

What’s your dream job?

I actually want to create my own company and be the artistic director and choreographer. I’m starting to think about finding the dancers I want to work with. And incorporate subjects of today — how we look at things differently in society.

What was the most challenging number for you in the show?

I think all of them are really hard!

Images courtesy of Red Bull

Art-and-Commerce Exhibition Is A Welcome DIS During Armory Week

Last night I tried to go to the “last” Brucennial. The line was endless. People were trying to tell the bouncers that they needed to get in, because they were in the show. (Unfortunately, 29,181.82 people were in the show). After a few days of fairs–plus a Chelsea opening where a few collector-types were verbally masturbating over the extreme youth of the latest fly-by-night, auction-approved painter–I basically hit a wall. I ditched the Brucennial. I tweeted angrily about an art world that can be so exciting one moment, and so horrifyingly gross and desperate the next. And then I rode my bike to the V.I.P. opening of an exhibition hosted by an energy drink company,  featuring hip jerseys emblazoned with the abstracted face of Slavoj Zizek.

And you know something? It was just the antidote I needed. (Okay, a few Red Bull vodkas helped, too. I love those things and I am not ashamed and it’s really nice to be in a safe place where no one is judging you for sipping your sickly brown-colored, wings-giving cocktail). The exhibition, “DISOwn,” was organized by online platform DIS magazine, and featured work from Ryan Trecartin, Lizzie Fitch, Jon Rafman, and many others, most all of it for sale in some shape or form (with plenty of things under $100). There were reflective chairs intended for unpaid interns, ball gowns involving bungee cords, soap shaped like clasped hands, and yoga mats. The gallery space looked more like a store, which was the intent–imagine a shiny UNIQLO outpost, but outfitted with climbing ropes and other gear repurposed as retail fixtures. The project itself is billed as “a diffusion line for art, as Karl Lagerfeld for H&M is for fashion.”  Cynical, sure, but also really fucking bright! And cheery! Especially after the fifth Red Bull, when the shimmery edges of reality start to blur the slightest bit!  “DISOwn” is open for business through April 6. My only complaint is that there was a complete lack of art- or fashion-related merchandise geared to cats. My cats would really enjoy little sports jerseys with Zizek’s face on them, or miniature “flaming denim” sweatsuits like the one shown below, by Korakrit Arunanondchai. Maybe next year.


This Week’s L.A. Happenings: BYOBurger, The Canvas Cooler Project, All Bands On Deck

Now: BYOBurger Hits Downtown LA
Conceived by the guys who brought California-based The Counter, BUILT is giving guests the same premium burger with the luxury of creating their own in a new, fast-serve environment, which means cheaper burgers. Expect a college-age crowd (thanks to its location near USC) and, best of all, free on-site parking. Wait. Best of all: cheaper burgers.

BUILT Custom Burgers (3584 Figueroa St., Downtown) is now open. For more information, check out the listings at BlackBook Guides.

Thursday: The Canvas Cooler Project At Factory West
Red Bull invades West Hollywood with their Canvas Cooler Project at Factory West, giving 20 emerging LA artists the opportunity to showcase works. All artists will be given wings and caffeine buzzes, but only two winners will be sent to SCOPE Miami.

The Canvas Cooler Project is open to the public from 9pm to 12am. For more information on the Canvas Cooler Project, check out the site. For more information on Factory West, visit the listing at our BlackBook Guides.

Saturday: All Bands On Deck! At Santa Monica Pier
This 98.7 sponsored event is bringing all the cool cats to the Santa Monica Pier with a line-up that includes current buzz bands Poolside, Yacht, Baio, and Guns in the Sun. BYOPBR.

All Bands on Deck! begins at 4pm. Tickets start at $10 and can be purchased here. For more information on Santa Monica Pier, visit the listing at BlackBook Guides.

Know every inch of this city by visiting BlackBook’s L.A. City Guides. Be the first to know about the latest openings & events in NYC by signing up for the weekly BlackBook Happenings email. 

Even Five Hour Energy Manages to Pander For Women’s Health

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which is why you’re likely to find your yogurt and fruit drinks to be covered in more pink and pandering copy about health awareness than usual. Maybe it’s because I don’t particularly care for breasts as a gay man, or maybe it’s because I am, you know, an adult, but I find the whole "I love pink and also boobies" mentality to be a pretty sophomoric way of bringing awareness to a disease that kills women, but what can I do? I’m just some dude with an internet connection and not some executive greenlighting extra marketing dollars for pink packaging rather than, oh, just giving that money directly to an organization. Nah, let’s just dedicate a special Five Hour Energy. FOR BOOBIES!

Yes, when I think of women’s health, my go-to is always that shitty stuff that people drink before parties to stay awake. You know, the healthy alternative to cocaine (or, maybe, a cocaine pre-gaming drink). Sure, it’s a healthier version of Red Bull, and since that energy drink has wasted its funds on paying for that dude to fall from space (science! it’s important!), it’s time for Five Hour Energy to step up to the plate to show how much it cares about women. With a pink lemonade-flavored energy shot. (If it were Testicular Cancer Awareness Month, I’m sure they’d go for a blue raspberry flavor.)

Ah, yes, Five Hour Energy: found in the produce section of the grocery store with the fruits and vegetables and other actual food you could eat more of to stay healthy and alert, but obviously avoid because it’s easier to get all of that in three-seconds from a pink bottle of flavored, caffeine-enhanced water. 

Follow Tyler Coates on Twitter.