Energetic Brazilian dancers take Compagnie Kafig to dazzling places | Steve Siegel (Jan. 2014)

Energetic Brazilian dancers take Compagnie Kafig to dazzling places
Sunday, January 26, 2014
Zoellner Arts Center

By Steve Siege

Paris-based Compagnie Käfig returned to Zoellner Arts Center Sunday afternoon for a mesmerizing program of hip-hop dance melded with a dazzling variety of other dance forms, all driven by the pulsating beat of samba, bossa nova, and electronic music. Unlike its two previous appearances in Baker Hall in 2002 and 2007 with all-French teams, this time the dance troupe was composed of 11 male dancers in their teens and early 20s hailing from Brazil.

Compagnie Käfig performed two of choreographer Mourad Merzouki’s works, “Correria” (Running) and “Agwa” (Water), each a half-hour long and each a dazzling display of virtuosity, acrobatics and energy-charged moves both violent and graceful.

Although billed as a hip-hop company, the dances defy easy categorization. To be sure, Merzouki borrows much of his vocabulary from hip-hop, with his dancers spinning, jumping, sliding, flipping, moon-walking, locking and popping.

But Merzouki combines these moves with Bollywood, Latin, Russian, and modern dance motions, creating a wonderfully bizarre hybrid that is part stage performance and part street spectacle. There were even allusions to Nijinsky, in hieroglyphic-like arm motions and splayed, bent-legged leaps. Heads were thrown back and pelvises would thrust violently back and forth, as if pulled by a powerful off-stage magnet, or yanked by unseen strings.

“Correria” was a flurry of motion, with dancers frantically running in circles, running in place, or even running upside downwhile being held by other dancers, their legs spinning wildly in the air. They would interrupt the running with marvelously synchronized leaps and jumps, heads spinning on the floor, legs pumping overhead. Adding to the flurry of motion, the dancers used shoes attached to short rods like walking sticks, giving a dizzying effect of multiple legs spinning.

 “Agwa” shared much of the dance vocabulary as “Correria” but with a more humorous element. Hundreds of plastic drinking cups, at times filled with water, were neatly placed in vertical strips across the stage, or stacked like fragile sculpture. The dancers, mostly bare-chested, would leap, slide, and gyrate around them with remarkable agility, juggle them precariously as the stacks swayed from side to side, or simply crash right through the lot, scattering cups about. Stark yellow-orange lighting accentuated the dancers’ muscularity, and gave the water a golden gleam as it was poured from cup to cup.

Merzouki’s soundtrack was as eclectic as his choreography, providing a percussive, electronic blend of bossa nova and other Latin beats expertly mixed with Greek Kalamatiano, ethnic Russian dances, and even Mozartian opera.