In 1996, when young French Hip Hop artist Mourad Merzouki and his crew performed on stage at the prestigious Lyons Festival it marked the beginning of a new movement in dance. Break-dancing and Hip Hop culture had officially arrived having travelled across the Atlantic. And instead of dance battles on street corners, Merzouki had successfully – and thrillingly – transferred it to the concert stage.
Today, Merzouki is the director of the Centre Chorégraphique National de Créteil et du Val-de-Marne in France. France is home to 19 choreographic centres situated in 15 of the country’s 22 regions. The centres were first established in 1980 as a way of de-centralizing the development of dance, moving it out of larger urban centres such as Paris and Lyons so that a broader public could be come engaged with dance practice. Each centre has a choreographer as its director and most often, a resident company. Käfig is the resident company at Créteil.
Käfig has performed more than 2,000 times in 47 countries, 600 cities, for more than one million people since that breakthrough 1996 performance.
In Victoria, the company will perform Käfig Brazil, the third piece Merzouki has created with this group of dancers from Rio de Janeiro. He was introduced to the 11 dancers in the piece by a colleague who suggested Merzouki create a piece for them, recognizing a kinship in the style of movement between Brazil’s capoeira and Hip Hop. The result is a very intense work that highlights the muscular strength, taut unison and displays of virtuosity.
Monday Magazine editor Laura Lavin recently had a chance to ask Merzouki about his impression of Käfig Brasil and what Victoria audiences can expect from their March 13 and 14 performances at the Royal Theatre.
Laura Lavin: This is a very visceral form of dance – how do you keep dance from becoming gymnastics?
Mourad Merzouki: My bet was to have the dancers’ energy and body language in the service of choreography. I wanted to exceed pure demonstration and frontal dance in order to tend to real choreographic writing, in collaboration with various choreographers (Denis Plassard, Céline Lefèvre, Octavio Nassur, Anthony Egéa, Collectif Käfig Brasil). Mixing hip-hop with other artistic tendencies contributes to bypassing the clichés about this discipline.
LL: Can you tell me about the use of props and video in the performance?
MM: I wanted a minimalist setting. The props are truly part of the staging. They help the audience in the interpretation of the choreography. They also avoid the frontal demonstration of hip-hop figures I was referring to.
LL: What is the most satisfying aspect of Kafig Brasil for you?
MM: It was not easy to create a piece with such a variety of artistic influences. All the contributions of the guest choreographers make a coherent whole: we switch from one artistic universe to the other smoothly. My worry was really ending up with a “chopped” performance. But we managed to find a common thread and that is the most satisfying part of this creative experience.
LL: What is it about this show that should draw people to see it?
MM: This performance is really open to a wide audience. It is filled with poetry, humour and the virtuosity of hip-hop dance. It also has a true choreographic writing that could get the audience of dance in general, interested in this show. Plus, those 11 Brazilian dancers on stage are captivating, they bring out their personalities and make us optimistic, in a time when I think we need such powerful energy and generosity.
Dance Victoria presents Compagnie (Company) Käfig in Käfig Brasil on March 13 and 14 at the Royal Theatre at 7:30pm. Tickets start at $29, call 250-386-6121 or go to DanceVictoria.com.