Hissy Fit and the Culture of Violence: an Interview with Christian Guerematchi
— July 3, 2022

Christian Guerematchi (Slovenia/Central Africa) is a bi-cultural choreographer and performer with a background in ballet and contemporary dance. After dancing for a long time for various dancers and choreographers, he started his artistic development as a maker with White Noise (2019) and N.A.M. – Non Aligned Movement. Christian Guerematchi’s performance Hissy Fit (2022) premiered in Frascati in Amsterdam in March and toured past nine cities during the travelling Moving Futures Festival 2022. In Hissy Fit, Christian Guerematchi, Mark ‘Brui5er’ Sheats, and Michael Wanga perform a powerful trio that deals with the violent stigma attached to black identity – from the history books to modern media. The performance connects the virile dance styles breaking and krump, the popular music movement drillrap, video and Afropessimism.

Driven by the raw energy of rap music, three black bodies experience their ‘hissy fit’; an emotional outburst of despair and frustration.

Hissy Fit can be defined as an emotional outburst of despair and frustration. Can you tell us how you chose the title Hissy Fit and what this means to you?

For me, getting a hissy fit is something extremely personal, but I learnt about the word because I actively searched for it. I knew the word temper tantrum – that’s also the title I started with for this performance – but then I encountered the word hissy fit. A native American speaker pointed it out to me: temper tantrum is commonly used for children, while hissy fit is used for adult struggles. And that’s why I thought: I need to use hissy fit. But personally, I know it from my own experience. I encountered, and still encounter, this urge for an emotional outburst and anger often. And that’s why I wanted to thematise it in this performance.

With Hissy Fit, you want to enter into dialogue with the audience. What do you want to communicate to them, what do you want to make visible?

The performance is not necessarily about showing a hissy fit, but it is about anger: underlying anger and the culture of violence. That’s what I want to discuss with the audience. I believe that the culture of violence comes from survival of the fittest and all those premises set up in the world. This culture of violence is also present in creative expressions such as drill rap. I find drill rap problematic, but I place the responsibility for that on the overall culture of capitalism, of a dog-eat-dog world, what I see in our society.

Many hissy fits come from this culture – at least, mine do, and I know that it is carried wider than only with me. I want to show that the culture of violence stems from the dominant culture, of discrimination and capitalism. And that is what I wanted to thematise and bring forward: I chose to give this specific perspective; that was very important to me. Because I think that when I would not have placed these three Black male bodies (Mark, Michael, and me) in this specific context, that too many people would walk out of the theatre with the idea that the three black guys are just being angry and violent. That is something that I wanted to avoid.

To enter into dialogue with the audience, you also host after-talks, in collaboration with artist Richard Kofi. How was this format created?

This format, with an after-talk in which you explain things in a different way – not only artistically, but also thematically – is something that I have been doing from the start, already with White Noise, my first performance, and with N.A.M. (Non Aligned Movement), my second performance. I met Richard at a performance of N.A.M., at an after-talk that he moderated, hosted by Bijlmer Parktheater. With Richard, it was the first time that I had a partner across from me who understood what the Non Aligned movement stood for and knew what I was talking about. We could finally bring the conversation about my work further. I found that very special – to widen the conversation beyond the performance and involve the audience, to hear their perspective. I noticed very quickly that the collaboration between Richard and me was very useful for me, and now I realised that we have a lot to offer each other and can propose together for theatre, for dance.

Hissy Fit also has an introductory documentary, made by Conni Trommlitz, in which you explain your inspiration and we see you and Richard visiting an exhibition by Kara Walker in Museum de Pont in Tilburg. Here, you also explain how the book Afropessimism by Frank B. Wilderson III was a big influence for Hissy Fit. In this book, Wilderson states that “the spectacle of Black death is essential to the mental health of the world,” and that Black people are in a constant state of “social death,” in which every Black person is always a slave and, thus, “Blackness is coterminous with slaveness.”

The visit to Kara Walker’s exhibition was Richard’s initiative; Richard also introduced me to the main theme of Afropessimism. He once gave me the book Afropessimism and told me: you have to read it. I read it, and I was shocked. And then all the ideas for the performance started to be in motion. Quickly, the idea started to create a pre-programme with a documentary, because it can be difficult to explain the culture of violence that Wilderson is talking about. Richard said: come to Tilburg, there is an exhibition of Kara Walker. And that is where everything started to make sense, because Kara represents what we talk about in Hissy Fit. So, it was perfect. We recorded much of the documentary in Museum de Pont. Afterwards, I discovered many similarities between Kara Walker’s art and my performance Hissy Fit, that I did not consciously put in there: for example, the shadows that are present in both Kara Walker’s work and in Hissy Fit. Because she works explicitly with similar representations, I thought: wow, without pushing it, we are creating something from Kara Walker, and I thought that was very beautiful.

A photo showcasing several art works part of the exhibition of Kara Walker in Museum De Pont in Tilburg.
The exhibition A Black Hole Is Everything a Star Longs to Be by Kara Walker in Museum De Pont in Tilburg (courtesy of Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York; Sprüth Magers, Berlin)

Hissy Fit is a collaboration with Mark ‘Brui5er’ Sheats and Michael Wanga. How did they influence the performance and how was your collaboration during the creation process?

Mark and Michael have influenced the performance immensely, I could not have made it without them. Overall, I researched ‘hip hop as social dances’ with them. Mark is a krump dancer and Michael is a b-boy, and I have not done any of those styles. We did a workshop and research week where we went into Mark’s domain and Michael’s domain. Working with hip hop was new for Mark, because he had never done that before. It was especially interesting to see that Mark could build those bridges very easily, because he – with his krump background – is already in the stream of hip hop. With me, that was very different, I really had to learn the steps, because I have a background in contemporary dance. My influence consisted of a certain intention that you bring through contemporary dance. Overall, it was important for me that everyone would dare to go out of their comfort zone, including myself, because that is where you can learn.

In the music, composed by Michael Wanga, you also bring forward drill rap. How do you see the influence of drill rap in Hissy Fit?

I used drill as an icon: in the masks and in a representation of violence. The drill rappers are also doing a kind of intimidation, and I got intrigued by that. The music and the drill rappers are confronting, and I wanted to show that there is as an emptiness behind it. That was my intention with drill. I was very surprised when I spoke with drill rappers because I noticed they have a very different attitude than what I thought. And then I had to adjust my opinion a bit, on how I look at drill. Because for them it is truly about the music. But, for me, the music is once again the culture of violence that carries a certain embodiment with it. Through music, racism gets processed and passed on. And I think drill rap is an element in that process. So, I used it as an icon. We also took the drill music itself because it has a certain beat that fits the feel of the performance. But it was never the intention to imitate drill rappers, we did not speak about weapons for example – we never touched upon that. So it stays quite abstract, despite what people think when they first see it. Because there are still certain judgements that are being attached to drill rap.

Do you want to share something on the collaboration with Studio 10.04 (Tony Markus), the scenographer and in charge of the visuals for Hissy Fit?

The collaboration was very special – it was the first time I worked with Tony. We spoke about layers, creating different layers. Quite quickly we thought of the 1992 Los Angeles riots [a series of riots in Los Angeles after a jury acquitted four police officers who used police brutality and excessive force toward Rodney King]. First, the riots were only a dramaturgical element, present in the theme and intention from where it came, but relatively quick the conclusion came that we had to show and project these images. With Tony, we also searched for something to record during the performance, and that became our own bodies, as performers, us as masked men, really there – we live stream these images to the screens on the back of the stage. Last year, we also did the Performance Technology Lab, where we experimented with live streaming and played with the balance between reality and fiction. It was great. During one of the after-talks after Hissy Fit, someone said “even in these screens I see a mask, it is one of the masks.” We did not think of it as a mask, but indeed, it is. All those layers, what you project on something, on identities, and how you portray yourself: Tony was indispensable there. This collaboration was essential.

What was for you the highlight so far – either at the premiere, the first performances at Frascati, or during the Moving Futures Festival?

I have to say, I was super happy with the first week, especially because of the after-talks. We had a great after-talk each night, with a completely different red thread. Sometimes I was alone with Richard, then it was together with Mark and Michael, and then with Studio 10.04. It changed every time, and for the audience it was an eye-opener. I just saw the people open up. It was confronting, they spoke out, they discussed things amongst each other, they said they found it difficult, or very good. That was the highlight for me. I saw that these themes are very alive with the audience, that they could relate and share their thoughts, and they took it with them, and then I think: wow. Mission accomplished.

An artwork by Richard Kofi, created for the performance Hissy Fit by Christian Guerematchi
A portrait photo of Christian Guerematchi

Artwork by Richard Kofi, created for Hissy Fit

— Article written by Astrid Klein Haneveld


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