Born in Lyon, France, choreographer Mourad Merzouki is the artistic director of Compagnie Käfig, which he founded in 1996. Merzouki started learning martial and circus arts when he was seven years old. As a teenager, his discovery of hip-hop culture led him toward the dance world. He soon decided to develop his hip-hop movements with more professional goals. Now, Merzouki blends his experience in circus and martial arts with hip-hop dance and music to create works that have earned him choreographic awards from the International Dance Festival in Wolfsburg, Germany, La Société des Auteurs et Compositeurs Dramatiques and Lyon’s Lumières de la Culture.
Merzouki founded Compagnie Käfig with a focus on creating new works that would bring a true artistic dimension to hip-hop and expand the form beyond its narrow and exclusionary social references to reach new audiences. The company leavens the fiercer elements of hip-hop with humor and maintains an artistic spirit that is open to other choreographic and artistic languages. By avoiding social stereotypes, the Käfig has managed to create a unique style that is widely accessible while remaining true to its roots, winning over audiences whose origins are as diverse as those of the dancers themselves. According to Merzouki, “This language–hip-hop–is movement that comes from the streets, from poor neighborhoods, where there is a primordial rage to speak out, to give expression to furious energy, to the fierce desire to live. It is a voluntary act that matures over time, absorbing different schools of thought. Nourished by disparate elements, it becomes not only art but a commitment–to dispense with clichés and conventional thinking and to dismiss bromides about hip-hop as a social movement, in order to establish this language as an art in its own right.” Merzouki’s efforts to engage urban youth extends beyond choreographic creations, introducing hip-hop and contemporary dance culture to the public through Käfig’s performances and in workshops and master classes.
The current iteration of the Compagnie Käfig troupe features a group of self-taught Brazilian male dancers that Merzouki first saw at the Lyon Dance Biennial in 2006. Their individual stories about their lives in the favelas (Brazilian shanty towns) and how they were determined to make something of themselves inspired Merzouki to create Agwa and Correria, two heart-stopping works that mix complex hip-hop with capoeira, samba, electronic music and bossa nova to showcase the young Brazilians’ astonishing acrobatic skills, dazzling virtuosity, and passion for dance.
Agwa and Correria will be presented from May 24 – 26 in the TD Arena at the College of Charleston.