Clément Cogitore
Clément Cogitore

The Amorous Indies
in the age of krump

Investigation by Patricia Brignone


In 2017, artist Clément Cogitore made a film with a high energy content. On the stage of the Opéra Bastille in Paris, around forty dancers are doing the krump, a street dance that originated in 2000s in the South Central district of Los Angeles. They display their movements and impose their style and culture to the baroque music of Jean-Philippe Rameau’s, Les Indes Galantes (The Amorous Indies). Shaking up time and genres, and above all avoiding the conventional pitfalls of appropriation, Cogitore succeeds in creating a forceful work that goes beyond cultural clichés.

[ 1 ]

3 ème Scène, Opéra national de Paris, Entretien avec Clément Cogitore, URL:

[ 2 ]

2 In a French article on krump, which she describes as “a free, raw, but structured dance”, journalist Rossana Di Vincenzo details the various movements in the repertoire, such as the stomp (which consists of hitting the ground with the foot as mentioned above), the chest pop (a game of frequent chest jolts), but also the arm swing (movement of the arms as if throwing a projectile or a punch, but with open hands), to which are added gimmicks (stuck out tongue, wrinkled forehead, open mouth, threatening looks)

Rossana Di Vincenzo, « Le retour en force du krump, la danse “mal-aimée” du hip-hop », published online 24/04/2018, URL:

[ 3 ]

MAC/VAL, A propos de quatre œuvres de Clément Cogitore (entretien, 12/06/2017), URL:

[ 4 ]


[ 5 ]

Roland de Candé, Histoire universelle de la musique (T. 1), Éditions du Seuil, 1978, p. 578.

[ 6 ]

3 ème scène, Opéra national de Paris, Interview in French with Clément Cogitore, URL:

[ 7 ]


[ 8 ]


[ 9 ]


[ 10 ]

See Véronique Doisneau, the film by Jérôme Bel, dedicated to the dancer in the corps de ballet at the Paris Opera.

[ 11 ]

Patrice Blouin, “David LaChapelle”, Les Inrockuptibles, n° 0512, 21-27 September 2005

[ 12 ]

Rossana di Vincenzo, « Le retour en force du krump, la danse “mal-aimée” du hip-hop », op. cit.

[ 13 ]

3 ème Scène, Opéra national de Paris, Entretien avec Clément Cogitore, op. cit.

[ 14 ]

Philippe Hersant, “Baroque”, Encyclopaedia Universalis [online], URL:

The value of an artist’s work often lies in its unique place among all his or her other works. This is undoubtedly the case of Clément Cogitore’s The Amorous Indies. While one of his latest videos, The Evil Eye (2018), confirms his skill in manipulating images, and his ability to free himself from their strict regime, his piece, The Amorous Indies, produced in 2017, abandons all technical virtuosity to focus on the physical presence of krump dancers, at the dramatic heart of an adaptation – as unexpected as it is fertile – of an extract from the opera-ballet by Jean-Philippe Rameau (created in 1735). The fact that the work was commissioned for the 3rd stage (the digital platform of the Paris Opera) in no way affects the originality of the proposal, filmed in the slightly spectral blue chiaroscuro of the bare stage of the Opéra Bastille. “It’s as if the stage had infused a little of its energy into each dancer, as if everything had ignited1,” confided Clément Cogitore, aware of the relevance of his choice, in preference to any other venue devoid of its own electric charge. The result is indeed intense, like krump itself, a dance that originated in the South Central district of Los Angeles in the wake of the deadly riots of 1992 triggered by the acquittal of the police officers implicated in the beating of the young African American, Rodney King, who unwittingly became a symbol of police violence.

The film, conceived as a video clip, opens with a throbbing beat, before moving on to the Rondeau which, in Les Indes galantes, marks the “fourth entrée, (act)”, known as the Savages. The narration is part of a series of romantic plots, pretexts for an exoticism of pure fantasy, where the different acts take place on the shores of the Bosporus, in Peru with the Incas (for the second entrée), in Persia (for the third), or even for the scene in question, in the heart of an American forest pitting Indians and Franco-Spanish troops, against a backdrop of gallant romance. It is this musical passage, rising to a frenzy, that the artist chose to transpose the krump battles. The protagonists each do their moves, quickly, with jerky gestures, mimicry and stomps, surrounded by a colorful crew, hooded or with braided hair, grouped around in a circle, cheering the dancers or breaking into the center of the circle in turn to perform their skills and display their freestyle2.

Embodied power

“The way a community is built, the way it gathers around a common object that is a story3“, in Clément Cogitore’s own words, is the focal point of many of his achievements. Thus: Parmi nous (35mm film made in 2011 whose story focuses on the journey of a young illegal immigrant); Assange Dancing (video made in 2012 based on an image found on the social networks and looped, showing Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, dancing under the bright spotlights of a night club, as if in a last moment of freedom – assuming it really is him…); We Are Legion (photograph taken in 2012 capturing a moment shared by a few members of Anonymous gathered around a picnic at dusk, by a river) or even more recently Braguino (documentary film made in 2017 that projects us into the heart of the Siberian forest in the presence of a recluse family). It is these modes of belonging, specific to a collective governed by its codes and ways of forming a group that the artist explores. Here, from the angle of krump and its set of moves, it is the embodied power of dance as a space of resistance that prevails. Through camera play as close as possible to the “magic circle”, he manages to share the liberating energy of the dance, designed to exorcise the negative impulses linked to discrimination experienced by ghetto youth (whether African-American, Latino or any other immigrant group characteristic of these highly stigmatized working class neighborhoods). As surprising as it may seem, the vehement, even outrageous gestures, particularly in the original form, Clown Dance (named after its initiator, Thomas Johnson, known as “Tommy the Clown”, with his emblematic use of face paint and Afro rainbow hair), miraculously match Rameau’s music, created some three centuries earlier. This over-expressive capacity could only appeal to Clément Cogitore, sensitive to everything that can be produced by the body or the situation. “My primary material is raw reality: a face, a voice, a landscape, a sound, a light (…)4” as he likes to say.

Between a gang and a ballet corps

Tackling Rameau’s Grand Siècle brilliance, but also taking him out of the comfort zone created by his reputation, was no easy task. His name alone symbolizes the tradition of high culture, placing him in the pantheon of the most eminent French composers alongside his elder Jean Baptiste Lully, both of whom gave Baroque opera its letters of nobility. If the legacy of royal feasts has left its mark on Rameau’s work, the opera-ballet (a genre to which Les Indes galantes belongs) above all marks the advent of a lyrical theatre in which his harmonic boldness could thrive. Some analysts (commenting on the genius of its creator, criticized by conservatives for his Italianism) have made an interesting comparison, arguing that “the opera-ballet, whatever one may think of its lack of unity, is a grand performance, with originality and variety. (…)5 ».

The surpassing, or rather the displacement of such a cultural imprint, could only be achieved at the price of a two-fold projection: in space (using the immense stage of the Opéra Bastille) and in time (the dramatic irruption of our own, multicultural era). Clément Cogitore rightly speaks of a “short circuit”6. We now understand his choice of the Savages as the act in which the krumpers develop the dance, and his desire to make it a symbol of the battle for identity recognition. We also understand his wish to return to a wildness in Rameau’s music, as though it had been anesthetized by good taste and operatic tradition. In this respect, the dancers’ furious movements, whipped up by the onlookers, clearly express what the artist calls the “blaze”, between the gang and the ballet corps7 “.

So that his vision, far from being purely aesthetic, is tinged with a more complex political dimension than it seems, made up of “knots”. Thus, the mutation of the “cannibal savage” into the “good savage”, as perceived at the time of Rameau (and Rousseau), resonates quite differently today. In the book of worthy sentiments, we know that benevolence is never far from condescension. If the Peace Pipe scene in Les Indes galantes refers to a concern for reconciliation, the “misunderstanding”8 still remains, source of all the tensions that Clément Cogitore illustrates by alluding to “young people dancing on a volcano9».

Body and personality

However, there is nothing to suggest that krump is being used as a pretext to evoke cultural otherness. Because we are faced with a visual work of dance, of great plastic beauty. Although it might surprise some people that this is a production of the Paris Opera (with its School, its little ballerinas, their tutus and ballet shoes, in a word, its conventions and hierarchies10, we are nevertheless dealing with three guest companies (Bintou Dembélé, Grichka and Brahim Rachiki) which, while they embody a form of resistance and freedom, fully execute the movements of a choreographic repertoire. One could of course raise the issue of exploiting the culture, or even deplore the use of urban expression that has shifted into entertainment. But this would be to overlook the importance of the phenomenon revealed by the film by American photographer and filmmaker David LaChapelle, Rize (2005), devoted to krump and clowning. In an interview with Patrice Blouin11, at the time of its release, he said: “I was shooting a video for Christina Aguilera. There were over three hundred extras waiting in a room and I saw these two kids dancing like I had never seen before. That same evening, after the shooting, I went to their neighborhood, the South Central Ghetto in Los Angeles, and I knew right away that I was going to make a movie about it… It was really impressive to see that they had invented all this by themselves, without taking classes and without knowing anything about African dances.” It is the echo of these African tribal dances, particularly Zulu, unknown to the dancers – with the added similarity of painted faces – that strikes you at first glance. LaChapelle’s film seeks to emphasize that similarity, mixing images from ethnographic archives with his own. Krump claims other references including hip-hop, as well as popping and locking, funk club dances, and an infinite variety of mimed gestures, especially the metaphorical gestures of fighting. Many krumpers also adopt the postures of movie actors, singers, or even video game characters. In krump it’s all about expression. It is inseparable, by nature, from the dancer’s personality and body. A phenomenon that is picked up by Clément Cogitore’s camera, which succeeds in capturing the singularity and communicative energy of each person.

Incantatory dimension

Instituted as a way of life, the spiritual aura of krump is reflected in its acronym: K. R. U. M. P. designating “Kingdom Radically Uplifted Mighty Praised”, by which “dancing brings us closer to the divine”12. We can note in passing (but is this a coincidence?), that the Zulu word takes its name from Ama Zulu meaning “people of heaven”.

Some of these masters are so famous that they have become stars at the head of dance companies. They are featured at international festivals and other highly attended battles, and they teach courses.

It is these undisputed names of krump, both American and French, that Clément Cogitore called upon for his staging. The opera-ballet is revived here in an unpredictable form, surrounded by the lights of a prestigious stage (that of the Paris Opera), but with all the exaltation of passion, the contortion of bodies and love of metaphor that are characteristic of the baroque arts. The artist’s vision and concern for his work to “connect and bring worlds together13” resonates all the more strongly today as it seems to re-actualize the phrase of music critic Philippe Beaussant who, evoking the baroque, speaks of a “world where all opposites are harmoniously possible”14. If the word “harmony” seems inappropriate here, because of the tension that runs through the work, it is clear that the “incantatory dimension of Rameau’s music“, as Cogitore calls it, associated with the cathartic side of krump produce a rare fullness: that of a community.

The attraction of artists to urban dance has, on many occasions in recent years, offered us a plural vision of a culture that places the body in the spotlight, in a mixture of revisited primal impulses and extreme sophistication. We can randomly quote Macadam Macadam subtitled “hip-hop-roller-bike show” (1999) by Blanca Li a pioneer in the field; the World Tour of Urban Dance in Ten Cities (2014) by Cecilia Bengolea, François Chaignaud and Ana Pi, the video installation The Fire Flies, Baltimore (2013) by Frédéric Nauczyciel dedicated to a community of Baltimore vogueurs crossed with that of a Parisian suburb; not to mention the reclaiming of clubbing by certain choreographers such as Christian Rizzo with Le syndrome ian (2016). It is also this essence of dance and music synonymous with identity rebellion that Jeremy Deller recently focused on in his film Everybody in The Place, An Incomplete History of Britain 1984-1992 (2018), emphasizing the clear role of rave parties and house music in Britain’s social upheavals. However, it would be risky to doggedly look for similarities between Clément Cogitore’s approach and that of other artists, since his Amorous Indies seems to be more of a sensual approach, filming the bodies of dancers immersed in music that appeals to the imagination, than a critical revisitation of the popular substrate of dance. Certainly, Clément Cogitore’s work here is that of a filmmaker, his film subverting time and genres.

Translation by Angela Kent
Cover: Still from Les Indes galantes, Clément Cogitore

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