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Jacob's Pillow Festival Presents Compagnie Kafig, 8/15-19

Related: Jacob's Pillow, Compagnie Kafig

With only two weeks remaining in the 80th Anniversary Festival, Jacob's Pillow presents Compagnie Käfig, a dynamic ensemble of hip-hop dancers from Brazil led by Artistic Director and internationally acclaimed choreographer Mourad Merzouki. Performing August 15–19 in the Ted Shawn Theatre, the company performs a program of two virtuosic works, Correria and Agwa, both packed with 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.

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.

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.

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.

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 11 dancers who were part of the two first pieces are still [performing] today, we didn't change the cast."

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

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.

Born in Lyon, France, in 1973, Merzouki started learning martial arts and circus skills at age seven. At 15, he discovered hip-hop and began exploring the world of dance, orienting his hip-hop style towards more professional horizons and testing himself in other dance styles, notably with Maryse Delente, Jean-François Duroure, and Josef Nadj. With this experience came the urge to undertake his own artistic projects, mixing hip-hop with what he had learned about the performing arts.

He created the Accrorap company, with other dancers, in 1989. In 1994 the company performed ATHINA, at the Lyon Biennale de la Danse and was acclaimed for taking hip-hop from the street to the stage without losing of its true identity. The troupe's first international performance took them to refugee camps in Croatia, where they learned that dance can be a potent means of communication in extreme situations.

In 1996, Merzouki created his own company, Käfig. In May 2004, he received the award for Best Young Choreographer at the International Dance Festival in Wolfsburg, Germany. Other winners included Maurice Béjart, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, and Tero Saarinen. In July that same year, Merzouki was made a Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres (Knight of Arts and Letters) by the Minister of Culture and Communications. In 2006, Merzouki received the SACD's New Dance Talent Award. In 2008, he received the Créateurs sans Frontières Award (Creators without Borders) from Bernard Kouchner, France's Minister for Foreign and European Affairs; the award singles out artists and cultural personalities who have had an impact on the international arts scene. In 2008, Merzouki joined the Board of Directors of the Centre National de la Danse in Pantin, France, for a three-year term and in 2009 he was appointed as Director of the Centre Chorégraphique National de Créteil/Val-de-Marne.

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