A live cinematic performance highlighting the underground street dance community of the UAE will have its premiere this week at The Arts Centre at NYU Abu Dhabi.
The Main Circle: 7.83 will be shown at 9pm at the Black Box theatre on June 23 and 24. The performance was written and directed by Philip Rachid, aka Soultrotter, a filmmaker, artist and dancer living in the UAE.
“It is a transmedia project,” Rachid told The National in an episode of Recorded. “It is a story told in various platforms, through film through live performance, music and spoken word.”
The Main Circle: 7.83 is named and inspired by the Schumann resonances, a scientifically proven frequency that represents the "heartbeat" of the Earth and its atmosphere.
“We as humans connect with these natural frequencies, it brings us balance, peace, and harmony,” Rachid said. “And that is exactly the message we want to spread through this project.”
The performance builds upon Rachid’s 2021 documentary It Ain’t Where You From, which explores the many facets of the Middle East’s hip-hop scene from dance, music and spoken word to graphics and street art.
Rachid’s cross-cultural background was formative to both It Ain’t Where You’re From and The Main Circle: 7.83.
“I grew up in Amsterdam, I'm Iraqi Kurdish, my mother was Bulgarian. And being a third-culture kid, basically means you have to find your voice in society, you have to look for your identity,” he said. “You're looking for tools to express yourself and to be able to voice your thoughts.”
Hip-hop provided him those tools. Despite its US origins, Rachid said hip-hop is a unifying, global movement, one that encourages individuality and freedom of expression.
“The raw beats, the lyrics, it really got me hooked. Later on, the movement and the freedom of expressing yourself through body language, which is international and universal, really took me around the globe.”
As Rachid reflected on his own experiences and background through hip-hop, he also became interested in hearing and documenting other stories from the community. The project, he said, was the perfect opportunity for that.
“When you start a project like this, you first think about your own story,” he said. “Even in the Arab world, me being Kurdish is being an underdog, because when I came there, nobody knew about Kurds. Recently, that has changed, of course. And then you start thinking who else has a story that's interesting to tell? And they all need to be different from a different perspective.”
The documentary and transmedia project offer a kaleidoscopic perspective of the Middle East hip-hop and breakdancing scene, featuring people from the community who sought solace in the movement from personal tragedies or pursued its art forms despite pushback from their society.
“The beautiful thing is, we've all met each other in the UAE and the UAE has been a beacon for street culture and street artists to come together and strive in the region,” Rachid said.
Rachid traces the documentary and transmedia project to an idea he had while visiting a workshop at The Arts Centre, led by The Weather Underground documentarian Sam Green.
“Sam Green is an Oscar-nominated documentary filmmaker, and I wanted to be part of that workshop,” he said. “I learnt a lot. He showed us his live documentary A Thousand Thoughts with Kronos Quartet. It had live music and I’m like ‘wow’. I knew that’s what I wanted to do but from a hip-hop perspective.”
Bill Bragin, executive artistic director at The Arts Centre at NYUAD, said: “We were so excited when Philip Rachid approached us with the initial concept for The Main Circle: 7.83.”
“Rachid synthesised Green’s unique approach to documentary film as a live performance and came up with a concept to tell a uniquely UAE story in a new way,” he said. “We were thrilled to be introduced to the underground street dance community of the UAE, and to see Philip use this as an opportunity to evolve artistically.”
Rachid’s short films and music videos reveal a keen sense of composition, colour, choices of location, and a deep sensitivity to his subjects’ stories, Bragin said.
“Developing this project over the past two years, despite the obvious obstacles created by the pandemic, have been an inspiring lesson in the power of partnering between DIY artists, and an institution like The Arts Centre. We expect audiences to come away with a new understanding of the UAE’s fertile artistic community, told in an exciting new way.”
For more information on the event, visit nyuad-artscenter.org