Breaking the Mold: Boukary Breakdances Way to New Worlds

Boukary Niakate in action at Snug Harbor in Charlotte (photo courtesy Knockturnal)

By Fredy Rodriguez Mera

In a club ambience, two big pieces of plywood are set on the floor forming a rectangular shape, quickly stuck together with duct tape and ready for a pounding. As in many sports routines, an initial warm-up starts the competitive juices flowing as one-by-one the dancers spontaneously hit the dance floor. Money, reputation, and respect hangs on the line as the audience screams for their favorite and amplifies the pressure. One dancer machine guns short leg kicks while spinning around his planted arm, resembling a car doing a doughnut; another uses his own head as an axis, spinning with legs wide open and using his arms as thrusts. Unlike most dances, this one can make you dizzy standing still.

The art of breakdancing was born from the hip-hop beats in the 70s in the New York City borough of the Bronx. It has become a cultural phenomenon that has spread all over the world and inspired many. That long reach includes one of tonight’s performers at Snug Harbor in downtown Charlotte, Frenchman Boukary Niakate, someone whose passion has taken him further than he ever expected. “Breakdancing has shown me that you only need to share one passion to connect,” says Boukary. “When I arrived in New York, I barely knew English, but that didn’t matter because dancing became the first language and thanks to that I have been able to communicate with people that have led me to travel the world.”

The Mali-born Boukary is a 26-year-old who left his home country and was raised in the suburbs of Pontault Combault, outside Paris. Thanks in great part to breakdancing, the third youngest of 16 siblings has spent most of his life doing the things he loves; dancing, filming and traveling the world. Breakdancing, his ultimate passion, has allowed him not only to compete and show his talent but opened doors of opportunities around the globe.

Eleven years ago, one afternoon while walking home from school, Boukary stopped outside a training room and was enlightened by what he saw and how cool it was. “I stopped and watched for a long time,” he says. Boukary observed break-dancers through the street window, but it wasn’t until months later that the opportunity to take action was presented to him. Thanks to a friend of one of his brothers who began breakdancing, Boukary got the chance to visit the same training room he used to observe and got a taste that never went away.

As soon as he stepped inside that room and discovered a passionate and driven community, a member immediately introduced himself and spontaneously began teaching Boukary small moves that would take him on a big voyage. “At this time, I said I want to do this all my life,” he said, smiling and sure of his decision.

Boukary soon joined the French dance crew whom he met, called Outlaw. Before discovering his dancing talents, he looked to have a promising future in the local soccer team, which he ditched to pursue his artistic talents. In the following years, using breakdancing as his passport, Boukary got to travel all around Europe performing in local, national, and international competitions, plus also often exhibiting theater performances. By the age of 17 he had traveled over most of France and by the age of 20 through most of Europe.

But he wasn’t just dancing. Boukary attended university and earned degrees in history, dance, and music. He also joined a rock band called W.E.T, which had its moment of fame on national French TV. He also created his own dance company by the time he was 23 years old. “It was hard for me to deal with all this, it took a lot of commitment.” he says.

His company Groove Workers was the fruit of his Outlaw and W.E.T band experience. The philosophy of the company was to incorporate classic, break and contemporary dance together with jazz music to tell a story on stage. The company has gotten a lot of praise and has charged up to 2,000 Euros to perform at special events. Knowing that he was able to create the company, he applied everything he had learned, and saw film as the art form that would catapult him overseas, so his film project was born.

Self-taught about filming and editing, Boukary embarked on his first film, From New York to New Orleans. The plan was simple: Boukary and his musician friend Valentin Lepagnez dreamt of a

French poster for Boukary Niakate’s second film, “From Seattle to Los Angeles”

road trip around the East coast of the U.S. to explore art culture and the birth of jazz. They pitched the project to various sponsors in France, and got half of the $6,000 budget. Over the course of their travels, they connected with other artists.  “It was like we knew each other long time ago, but it was because we were musicians and no matter who we were, we had that instant friendly connection.” Boukary says.

Musicians, dancers, and skaters from all back grounds were filmed, unknown local artists like Boukary and Valentin. They wanted to show artists that did the same things they did, and highlight their stories and how they came to be, but also show how artistic localism varied around different parts of the East coast.

From New York to New Orleans was shown in over 20 theaters in France, and in one small town so many people attended that even local officials were impressed. “The mayor told me that he couldn’t believe how many people my film attracted and how there were people from all classes united by the film,” Boukary says.

One of the friendships Boukary made on the way to New Orleans was in Charlotte, where he first met Mark Robertson while dancing at Snug Harbor. “He is such a nice person with so much energy, I knew he was going to be good, but not amazing,” Mark says when asked about how good Boukary is. After more than a dozen times competing against each other, often for money and bragging rights, they know how to leave their friendship aside when hitting the dance floor. “He is a tough competitor that never quits, but after the music stops I just can’t help but smile with him, I admire his talent,” Mark says.

Boukary went on to create a film sequel, From Seattle to Los Angeles, which followed the same structure as From New York to New Orleans, meeting with local artist and interacting with them. “I was curious to see how artists differentiated from the East coast, Seattle is also a main city for rock music and Los Angeles has a strong connection with skate boarding and breakdancing,” he says.

But in between these projects, Boukary was offered an opportunity by a dancing academy in France to travel to Peru and Madagascar to volunteer and teach dance in local schools. He said that it was important for him to teach such uncommon dance in those countries because maybe one day some of them would have the opportunity to travel because of it, just as he did. “It was a great experience, and helped me to see the world even more. It’s amazing where dance can take you,” Boukary says.

In his journey, Boukary has had not only the support of his big family and all the friends made along the way, but from his fiancé whom he met in kindergarten, Aurelia Gaza. “She is my best friend and the love of my live, she has motivated big part of my success,” he says fondly. For years they sustained a long-distance relationship while she arrived first to the States for her bachelor’s degree, as he went around countries. This year Boukary decided to settle down and make Charlotte his home base from wherever he decides to go next.

Boukary’s passions have taken him further than he had ever thought, he’s traveled several countries, and touched the heart of many people showing his talent through the art of breakdancing. For him this is just the beginning and at such young age he plans to follow his filming success, “I am very excited for what the future holds and all the places I have yet to travel, I can’t wait.”


Liz Miller and Shannon Collis at Rowe

By Gabby De Maria

Occupying the space at Rowe Gallery on UNC-Charlotte’s campus, the installations of Liz Miller and Shannon Collis juxtapose colors and strong visual cut-outs against bare monochrome and sound.

Miller knows how to manipulate felt. In her latest installation, the Minnesota State University professor fills the downstairs gallery space with imagery that pulls at various shapes and sizes to “create abstract fictions,” according to her artist statement, and to manipulate complex Gothic and Baroque images. Invasive Adornment, tailored specifically for the room it appears in, feels like walking into a wonderland of painstakingly constructed woods from a production of A Midsummer Nights Dream. From one angle, the shapes seem to form a mockingbird; in others, antique scissors. The shapes and images are quite fascinating to look at. “The use of felt, foam, and other tactile materials further complicates questions of source, masking the identity of forms while allowing them to inhabit both sculptural and two-dimensional space,” Miller says in her statement.

Upstairs in Frequencies, Shannon Collis uses prints on clear film that manipulate sound and how it affects the perceptions of our world. The pieces are stark black and white. A few pieces of the installation tinkle and ping and jump around like jumping beans. It’s a little alarming to know that the little beads are jumping from the sound. The Canadian-born artist with an MFA from University of Alberta, Edmonton states, “The print process involves the manipulation of materials in order to transcribe an image onto paper. In each layer, the print is a record of past processes and contains the physical history – the material residue – of those processes.”

Collis’ series of prints based on the jumping bean mechanisms recall a sink drain filled with coffee grinds, or a rippled anatomical heart. But other than that, what’s the point?


Noel Freidline — Harmonizing the Practical and the Musical

By Torron Williams

“Sorry for being late, had to handle some Daddy duties,” says  UNC-Charlotte Instructor Noel Freidline, making it clear from the beginning that he’s a father first, and all the other facets that make him a modern Renaissance man, second. The tall and slender charismatic musician exudes substantial confidence without coming off arrogant. As a teacher, music director, and jazz pianist, Freidline has established himself in a variety of occupations, each focused on or around music. He also graciously uses music as a gateway to helping others establish their passion, and not solely to make a living.

Freidline grew up in Clearwater, KS, a rural, secluded town with a close-knit community. “Things were done on a handshake,” he says. “Everybody was neighbors; everyone helped out.” Raised as an only child in the middle of the countryside, he had to keep himself busy and music was his outlet. He began playing piano early, learning the fundamentals from his father, who was also a pianist. The core of his piano playing came from his piano teacher, an organist at his church who also taught him the ins and outs of the choir.

Freidline’s first exposure to jazz coincidently came from home. He stumbled across a random Dixieland jazz album that came out of a CD club catalog. “I didn’t have anyone to play with, and I was always trying to entertain myself. When I found the album and put it on, I thought it was cool, so I tried playing along with it,” he says. Friends from school ignited his interest in jazz even more, recommending piano legends Dave Brubeck, Oscar Peterson, and Bill Evans for listening.

He spent his first two years of college at Wichita University, just to get his feet wet. But he realized that if he really wanted to make moves with music, he’d have to transfer to a much more musically inclined area. “There wasn’t anything waiting for me in Wichita, it’s not a big jazz mecca or music mecca,” he says. “At Wichita, I learned a great deal of discipline, and I learned how to practice daily. I felt confident that I was ready.”

Freidline went on to transfer to The University of North Florida. The school was the perfect fit for him as it was kicking off a new music program and provided him with a lot of playing experience. “I played in three combos and two big bands; anything that came along had my name on it,” he says.

Freidline uses his college experiences as a touring musician to inspire musically gifted students to go after their dreams —but wisely. After graduating college with a Bachelor of Arts in Music, Freidline formed a jazz trio in 1992 with help from vocalist Renée Dickerson. His first album, One for Maxcene, was released in 1994. The trio recorded 27 songs in two days, and narrowed it down to 11 for the album. “It’s been the last couple of years that I’ve started feeling comfortable in the recording studio, enjoying the recording process,” he says. “I always hated it because I’m much more of a working player than a recording musician.”

Six albums later, Freidline is still playing music locally, now with his quintet, and traveling across the states playing at festivals and weddings. But, he’s conquered another level of spreading music to inspire people with his teaching. In addition to his UNCC courses, Freidline became the Upper School Music Director of Davidson Day School in 2012. In an interview with, Bonnie Cutter, Head of School at the time, expressed how essential Freidline’s efforts were to the school. “We need to do for the instrumental program what Glee has done for choral music,” she says, “and he’s just the man for the job.” He sees this opportunity as a chance to give grade school kids (including his own) a chance to grow up with the music education of his dreams. It means a lot to him to teach two of his own kids especially. “I knew what I wanted them to have, so I said, ‘okay, I want to be the one that does this’.”

Although he’s raised his three children on music, he makes it apparent that music isn’t necessarily a given for them. “I’m not necessarily pushing them to become musicians, they have a knack for it and if they want to do it that’s great, but I don’t want them to think they have to,” he says. “They should do what they love.” Freidline revealed that next year he’d be introducing his students to GarageBand and other new digital recording elements of today’s music.

Freidline’s teaching career began at the UNCC, directing an array of jazz combos held on the campus. While directing, he went to the music department to inquire about its course offerings. “They didn’t offer Music Business at UNCC, and I had been doing some clinics at colleges on music business, so I created the course from scratch myself,” he says. “I didn’t have a Music Business class growing up, and I feel like it allows me a chance to pass on some information to music students that might make the road a little easier for them. If you want to keep what you have, you’ve got to give it away, and it’s a privilege to help my students.”

Jazz music may not be the forefront of today’s music, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t done great things for Freidline. Throughout 2008 and 2009, Freidline found himself composing original pieces for the sports network ESPN. But, re-envisioning is Freidline’s specialty. “I’m much more of an arranger than a composer for sure,” he says. “I love taking what someone’s done and dressing it up or taking it in such a different direction.”

Despite his success with writing compositions for ESPN, and serving as the pianist for a Charlotte stint of the Broadway play, Jersey Boys, Freidline is clear on jazz’s position in music today. “There’s so much cross-over in music, and jazz will never be mainstream again. Art is always more difficult to sell, and entertainment is easier to sell,” he says. “Many jazz artists feel like they’re selling out if their music becomes more entertaining.” Regardless of his statements, Freidline insists that jazz maintains influence on hip-hop, Celtic, and some subgenres of electronica. “It’s just the elements of jazz being very cleverly incorporated into more popular genres.”

Freidline continues to spread his love for music and make a career out of it. With a successful 19-year marriage and three children, Freidline merges the unordinary music world with the traditional world. He recommends perseverance to those with musical ambitions. “Don’t quit. Keep trying, and keep learning” he says. “There will be moments where you have to step away from it, but do get back to it. I’m not the most talented musician out there, and I’ve had a little more success than others just because I just wouldn’t quit.”


Week 15 Reminder

Hi, class — Don’t forget to bring your profile drafts to work on in class Tuesday. I’ll be visiting with each of you individually to discuss this in our last class, so have something to work on while I meet with the others. Your final drafts are due by midnight the day of the (non-existent) final exam, Tuesday, May 7.

Romeo and Juliet Get a Tech Tune-Up

By Torron Williams

What’s the best way to modernize a Shakespeare classic while preserving the sacred content? Keep the dialogue from the tragedy and resurrect it by surrounding the script in current lifestyles. Much like Baz Lurhmann’s 1996 film rendition — Romeo + Juliet — of the timeless Shakespeare tragedy, UNCC’s Theatre department does just that with their adaption of the Shakespeare play, stylized as the net-friendly, Romeo.Juliet. The production, directed by James Vesce, is being held in Robinson Hall from April 12 through April 21.

The opening act of the modernized play showed students and Shakespeare lovers alike that his love stories can evolve over time, even though the standard ways of communication have changed so much in comparison to the original sixteenth century setting. To stay current, Romeo.Juliet adopts iPads, texting and cellphones – our modern-day saviors – as secondary communicative tools. Romeo (Sammy Hajmahmoud) and Juliet (Gina Herrera) are both seen stalking each other in adoration on Facebook, as well as carrying on phone conversations and Skype calls with fellow Montague family members and Lady Capulet (Rebecca Costas). These scenes make you wonder how the fateful couple would handle their relationship if such technology were at their beck and call then.

The music selection throughout the play also adds an up-to-date essence; the opening scene features a stage full of rave choreography complete with dubstep breakdowns and strobe lights, coordinated by Donell Stines-Jones. During tense action scenes, a screeching fiddle sounds off, while an eerie, horror-esque ringing chirps during fight sequences. An even more unconventional aspect of UNCC’s rendition is Mercutio’s portrayal by Aubrey Young, who gave a great, daring depiction of what is typically a male character. She led the Montague pack, all decked out in variations of black and grey.

The best attribute of the contemporary version is that the cast makes the entire venue their stage. Many scenes, including the duel between Romeo and Tybalt, as well as dialogue between Romeo and several Montagues, occur throughout the entire house. But, the best assets can also be a blessing and a curse. There were instances where there were so many people milling around that it distracted from the actual dialogue. Seeing an abundance of people in the shadows drew more interest in what was going on around the main characters illuminated by spotlights rather than the characters themselves.

The timeless “wherefore art thou, Romeo?” scene was also a part of this set; Juliet emerges at the highest balcony behind the crowd, as the audience stirs in their seats to catch a glimpse of Romeo’s point of interest. The full-house coverage made the play feel much more personal than a typical stage-confined presentation. Making such an untouchable era still relatable, even if it seems so intangible, is what makes UNCC’s Romeo.Juliet a success.


Class — Due to the death of a close friend, there will be no class next Tuesday as I will be out of town beginning Sunday (I’ll be attending Friday or Saturday night’s performance, so you’re on your own Sunday).

I have also updated the syllabus (below) to reflect that and a couple of other changes. By the time we meet again on April 23, you should be done with or finishing your interviews and getting ready to write. If you’re having any trouble landing your interviews, please let me know asap and we’ll make alternate plans. If you have any questions about anything, don’t hesitate to email me — I’ll only be off the grid entirely on Monday afternoon. Anyone who’d like to hand in their first drafts earlier than the due date may do so; just let me know when it’s going to arrive.

TUESDAY, APRIL 9 – 12TH CLASS – Theatre: Behind the Scenes of the Actor’s Medium

FIELD TRIP: *****Behind the scenes tour of Romeo.Juliet set at Robinson Hall for the Performing Arts with Chris Buess, Production Manager, followed by short discussion with Director James Vesce (Chair of the Department of Theatre).*****

*ASSIGNMENTS for 13th class: 1) Attend Romeo.Juliet on Sunday, April 14, 2013 @ 2 p.m. Robinson Hall for the Performing Arts; write 500-word review by Tuesday midnight (students attending Thursday, April 18, must turn in first draft by midnight Sunday, 4/21).

TUESDAY, APRL 16 – 13TH CLASS –Profiles


*No class — Instructor Out of Town

*Work on profiles

*READINGS/ASSIGNMENTS to be discussed/done for 14th class: 1) Turn in edits on Theatre Review by midnight Sunday, 4/21 (2nd-week theatre reviews must be in by midnight, Tuesday 4/23); 2) Read and take specific notes on one of the profiles below focusing on the Four Keys — Context, Description, Analysis/Interpretation and Evaluation; prepare to discuss in class and relate to your own profiles on 4/23.

TUESDAY, APRIL 23 – 14th CLASS – Profiles/Pitches


*Profiles — The good, the bad, the ugly (so far)

*Determining Your Audience

*How to Pitch An Editor

*How to Make Freelancing Pay the Bills

*ASSIGNMENTS for 15th class: Turn in first draft of 1,500-word profile by Sunday, April 28 at midnight.

TUESDAY, APRIL 30 – 15TH CLASS – Profiles


* Work on profile edits one-on-one with instructor

*FINAL ASSIGNMENT: Turn in final draft of profile by (DUE ON DATE OF FINAL, Tuesday, May 7, by midnight — NO LATE PROFILES ACCEPTED)

Exhibit Shines Hopeful Light on Brazilian Favelas

By Torron Williams

With the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics on Brazil’s doorstep, the unapologetically rugged slums of Brazil – known as the favelas — are gaining in notoriety.

UNC-Charlotte’s Center City gallery hosted an exhibit of photography by Pedro Lobo entitled, “Favelas: Architecture of Survival.” Running at the center from March 9 through May 30, the exhibit includes an array of images of Brazilian shantytowns. Lobo, a Brazilian photographer with an educational background in New York City’s International Center of Photography and Boston’s School of the Fine Arts, spent five years in the favelas, gaining a raw and exclusive outlook on the areas.

Lobo vividly illustrates the shantytowns and their residents through a candid perspective. The favelas, which currently house more than one million squatters, formed in the late 1800s after Brazilian slaves were freed and developed settlements in areas near metropolitan centers to pursue jobs. But what we generally associate poverty with —darkness and sorrow — are not what comes to mind when viewing these photos. Yes, these are less-fortunate living areas, but Lobo’s photos paint the favelas as normal neighborhoods.

An image of the Rocinha favela is covered from corner to corner with huts and makeshift buildings of all shapes, sizes and colors. Taken as the sun was setting, specks of lights from the homes illuminate the image, almost like a concert audience holding up lighters during a tribute song. The massive display makes Levittowns look like miniscule apartment complexes by contrast.

Another image shows a flight of stairs in Providencia that was decorated in support of the Brazilian World Cup team in 2002. Bordered in green and yellow, the pathway resembles that of a scene from the video for Snoop Dogg’s 2003 hit single with Pharrell, “Beautiful,” which was shot in Rio de Janeiro. The decorative layers will serve their purpose once again when Rio de Janeiro hosts the World Cup final and celebrates its 450th anniversary in 2015, and once again attracts attention as the location for the Olympics.

There’ll be a lot of celebrations coming up, in addition to the usual Carnival sambas, which originated in the Favelas. Lobo captures some of that excitement even in the least-expected places. His images effectively took viewers outside of their general assumptions of ghettos and less-fortunate areas, and showed them that there’s always room for enjoyment. Lobo’s pictures make it clear that these aren’t the most preferred living conditions, but that like any other humans, the residents make the most of their situation. These images are also important for future tourists to see to gain an understanding that the glitz and glamor of Rio is not the only side to the beautiful city; they can find beauty in the grimiest places as well.

Profile Pitch Memos…

Would like to get these from everybody in the next day or two — you can send via email/word.doc or bring to the “field trip” tomorrow. No grade on these, but they’ll help you focus your thoughts on getting your profile in order. If you haven’t turned in your Visual Arts reviews…get them in asap or suffer the penalty — one grade  down per day late.

Next Week, 4/9

We’ll be meeting for next week’s class in the Robinson Hall lobby again, where we met prior to our opera experience. Meg Whalen will introduce us to the set designer for Romeo.Juliet, and we’ll take a behind-the-scenes tour — don’t forget to take notes! We’ll also confirm the ticket situation, but for now most of the class have tickets for Sunday under the class name, while the others have their tickets set aside under their own names for the night of their chosen performance. Don’t forget to turn in your final Visual Arts posts, too, which I’ll throw up on the blog this weekend or early Monday.  See you Tuesday @ Robinson Hall @ 3:30!