Breakdance as a new form of martial arts


Compagnie par Terre, Anne Nguyen

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Eight breakdancers present the start of a whole new martial art form in Kata. The French choreographer Anne Nguyen is a celebrated breakdancer, who loves martial arts, particularly viet vo dao, Brazilian jiu-jitsu and capoeira, where dance and martial arts already meet. In Kata her dancers perform individually and as a group in a series of movements with (imaginary) opponents. She uses these movements, most of which come from breakdancing, to create a contemporary form of martial arts with urban dance. Kata is a strong performance of a new ritual with which to resist contemporary forms of oppression.

background information

French choreographer Anne Nguyen makes her debut at the Holland Festival with Kata, a dance show that combines hip-hop with martial arts. In Kata,Nguyen deconstructs the basic moves of breakdance and gives these a completely new meaning:

the eight breakdancers become the embodiment of a long-gone warrior ideal, and the tenacity of their dancing comes to represent both a moral and spiritual outlook on life. Nguyen perceives breakdance, in fact, as a contemporary form of martial art which came into being as a creative weapon against the hostility and dangers of the big city. Kata shows the eight dancers in combat against imaginary opponents, present only in the dance steps, and uses both martial arts and breakdance movements to convey this. We see how the practice of their art enables the dancers to develop their inner selves, increase their vital energies, and attain harmony with their environment. They are transformed into modern samurai, bound by an ancient code of honour, however absurd that may seem in modern life. Nguyen says that in our daily lives we are rarely confronted with situations in which people really fight with each other. ‘But the fighting spirit, given form by breakdance, can be used to help us resist an environment of oppression and a decadent contemporary lifestyle which have disturbed our relationship with the Earth and with the animal world. Hip-hop and breakdance are forms of discipline and ritual. They help us to renew our contact with our deepest instincts.’


Kata is Nguyen’s tenth production with her dance company, Compagnie par Terre. Since her debut solo Square Root (2005) she has concentrated on fusing the raw, technically demanding moves of hip-hop dance with an extremely expressive, raw choreography. Her work is typified by precise gestures and movements, the use of mathematical and biomechanical principles, the constraints of geometry, contrasts between openness and density, the interweaving of bodies and an unexpected use of space. All these enable her to create a layered architecture of movement. Many of the works she has choreographed, such as Yonder Woman (2010) and bal.exe (2014), revolve around a contrast between carefully controlled images and free space, in which exciting improvisations are made possible. Nguyen also creates hybrid art projects which search for a new relationship between dance and spectators. Danse des guerriers de la ville (2016) (Dance of the city warriors), for example, which can also be seen at this year’s Holland Festival, is a multimedia installation that combines audience participation, video art and virtual reality with hip-hop.


In the martial arts tradition the word ‘kata’ refers to an established set of self-defence techniques in which the combat is with imaginary opponents. The movements are often not immediately recognizable but have hidden meanings. Through endless repetition they become second nature and are transformed into practical combat reflexes. Traditionally every single move in a ‘kata’ has a specific function, while in breakdance individual moves are often subordinated to the over-arching expressive effect. Nguyen was confronted by this difference in her own martial arts training. Her teacher felt she should choose between capoeira or breakdance, because she was improvising her fights, using too many weak or pointless moves. Nguyen says that in Kata she is now doing exactly the opposite: ‘I take a dance form like breakdance, composed from a sequence of apparently pointless moves, and I give each movement a function again, as if each sequence really were a kata from martial arts.’ In the show Nguyen decomposes the centrifugal dance patterns of breakdance into separate series of isolated movements, and then gives each of these a new application: as a fighting technique, or as a way of entering into a relationship with another dancer.


To the rhythms of the original soundtrack by Sébastien Lété, and supported by a subtle lighting design by Ydir Acef, the eight breakdancers systematically move across the stage, individually or in strictly controlled dance formations, following carefully designed interweaving patterns. Slowly the meaning of these separate choreographic phrases becomes apparent. As the dancers draw closer to each other, their gestures develop into mosaic-like forms, creating complex fight scenes that arise amid attack and defence moves, in the ducking and diving. And so form is given to the elusive but warrior-like energy of the breakdance. 


French dancer, choreographer and poet Anne Nguyen is rooted in hip-hop culture. As a B-girl she has participated in hundreds of battles and performed with many hip-hop and contemporary dance companies, such as Blanc Blanc Beur, Faustin Linyekula and

Salia Nï Seydou. She has also performed with the breakdance crews Red Mask (Montreal), Phase T, Def Dogz and Créteil Style (Paris). Nguyen has won several prizes in breakdance, for both solo and group works, in major competitions such as the International Breakdance Event (2004) and Battle of the Year (2005). She is an expert in several forms of martial arts including capoeira, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, Viet Vo Dao and Wing Chun. In 2005 she founded her own company, Compagnie par Terre, and made her breakthrough in the same year with the solo performance Square Root. This work combined mathematical sequences with Nguyen’s own poetry, and made a connection between the geometric movements of breakdance and the oppressive effects of the contemporary urban environment. Following this, she created nine further shows including the duet Yonder Woman (2010), the walk for eight poppers PROMENADE OBLIGATOIRE (2012), the female quartet Autarcie (….) (2013) and bal.exe (2014), a robot dance to chamber music, performed by eight poppers and five classical musicians. Nguyen’s poems and articles have been published in Danser Magazine, Repères and Cahier de Danse, amongst others. Nguyen was awarded the SACD Nouveau Talent Choréographie prize in 2013, and in 2015 was made a Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. For the 2015/2016, 2016/17 and 2017/18 seasons Nguyen is an associate artist at Chaillot – Théâtre national de la Danse where Kata, her tenth production, was premiered on 11 October 2017.



Anne Nguyen
Yanis Bouregba, Santiago Codon Gras, Fabrice Mahicka, Jean-Baptiste Matondo, Antonio Mvuani Gaston, Valentine Nagata-Ramos, Hugo de Vathaire, Konh-Ming Xiong
Sébastien Lété
Ydir Acef
Compagnie par Terre
Chaillot - Théâtre national de la Danse; CND Centre national de la danse; Le Prisme - Centre de développement artistique de Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines; Espace 1789 - scène conventionnée pour la danse; Théâtre de Choisy-le-Roi - scène conventionnée pour la diversité linguistique; Scènes du Golfe - Théâtres Arradon - Vannes
with support by
with thanks to
AOI Clothing, Jean-Baptiste Matondo for the costumes

This performance was made possible with support by