Brazilian Hip-Hop Comes to Jacob’s Pillow

A scene from Compagnie Käfig's 'Agwa' (photo Michel Cavalca)

(BECKET, Mass.) – Compagnie Käfig, a French-Algerian dance company led by artistic director and internationally acclaimed choreographer Mourad Merzouki, brings a dynamic ensemble of hip-hop dancers from Brazil to Jacob’s Pillow from Wednesday, August 15 through Sunday, August 19, 2012, in the Ted Shawn Theatre. The company performs a program of two virtuosic works, Correria and Agwa, both relying on athleticism, artistry, and drama.

A major figure on the hip-hop scene since the early 1990s, choreographer Mourad Merzouki works at the junction of many different movement disciplines, fusing circus and martial arts, fine arts, and music with a continuous exploration of all hip-hop styles. He is known for opening up new outlooks in dance, while honoring the hip-hop movement’s roots and its social and geographical origins.

In addition to virtuosic hip-hop choreography, acrobatics, and samba- and capoeria-influenced dance, Agwa addresses the ecological and political connections of water. Dancers use hundreds of small cups in each performance to employ and transfer water onstage.

Merzouki created Agwa in 2008, after meeting a group of young street dancers from Rio de Janeiro. He comments, “I have been introduced to Brazilian dancers by Guy Darmet, who used to be the Director of the Maison de la Danse in Lyon, and lives between France and Brazil. He knew these dancers very well and as he has been following me for more than twenty years, he asked me to create a piece for them. These young dancers, mostly from Rio’s favelas, were dancing to express themselves, to exist, to survive… the rhythm and the passion is really present within them. It really fascinated me and I decided to create the piece Agwa for them. The eleven dancers who were part of the two first pieces are still [performing] today, we didn’t change the cast.”

A scene from Compagnie Käfig's 'Correria' (photo Michel Cavalca)

Following the success of Agwa, Merzouki worked with the same group of dancers from Brazil to create Correria in 2010. Athletic and acrobatic, Correria is a stylized endurance piece that lunges into a whirlwind of the frenzied modern world. Merzouki again worked with the lighting designer and musical arranger from Agwa, Yoann Tivoli, and French hip-hop music artist AS’N. A video projection by Charles Carcopino mirrors bodies running on stage vs. screen, and humor and wit are interlaced with flips, spins, and joyous choreography.

Merzouki’s training is rooted in the circus school in St. Priest, France, located in Lyon’s eastern suburbs, which he attended from the age of seven while also training in karate and boxing. He started learning hip-hop when he was 15; he began dancing in the street before working with  choreographer Kader Attou, who would remain his associate from 1990–1994. During that time he was also worked with contemporary choreographers including  Jean-François Duroure and Josef Nadj. Merzouki’s first fully independent work, KÄFIG, was performed at the Rencontres Urbaines de la Villette in Paris. Käfig, which means “cage” in Arabic and German, later became the name of the company.

Roslyn Sulcas of the New York Times comments “One of the most prominent of the many French hip-hop troupes to emerge over the last two decades is the Lyon-based Compagnie Käfig, founded by Mourad Merzouki in 1996… For two new pieces, though, he has collaborated with a group of dancers from Rio de Janeiro; Correria and Agwa are inspired by their stories of growing up in favelas, and the choreography incorporates elements of athletic samba and capoeira. It’s a potentially fascinating cultural exchange.”

Dancers in Compagnie Käfig vary based on current repertoire. The company made its Jacob’s Pillow debut in 2001 with Dix Versions, with dancers mostly of Algerian and North African descent. Of that performance, Anna Kisselgoff of the New York Times called Compagnie Käfig “One of the most innovative troupes on the experimental dance scene… The Pillow gave it the wider exposure it deserves.”

Since 1996, 17 of Merzouki’s dance works have been performed in more than 600 cities. In the past 16 years, Compagnie Käfig has given over 2,150 performances in 61 countries for more than 1 million people. Merzouki is often invited to collaborate with other artists in France and abroad, contributing to the international reputation of hip-hop dance and his own company.

Jacob’s Pillow is offering special pricing for Käfig – regular tickets range from $39-$64.  $35 Under 35 Tickets are available for all Käfig performances (ages 18–35), two per person, must show I.D. when picking up tickets. $10 Youth Tickets are available for Friday, August 17 at 8pm and Saturday August 18 at 2pm (must be accompanied by an adult ticket).



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