One of the wonders of dance is its uncountable manifestations. From the delicate sublimity of ballet to the rocketing energy of street performance, dance thrills the hearts of its viewers through the bodies of its performers. It may pluck the string of melancholy, or sympathy, or, like Compagnie Käfig, the bright string called joie de vivre.
Led by choreographer Mourad Merzouki, Compagnie Käfig of the Centre Choreographique de Créteil et du Val de Marne makes dances that combine hiphop style with martial arts moves and artful circus feats. The company is currently touring two works, and Carolina Performing Arts brought them to the stage of UNC's Memorial Hall Feb. 25. The show will repeat Feb. 26; for details, see the sidebar. It's a guaranteed cure for the wintertime blues.
Correria (2010) and Agwa (2008) are both more evolved artistically than Merzouki's work I had seen in 2005. Merzouki, who is French of Algerian background, has been working with Brazilian dancers and their music, and these two works are performed by an 11-man troupe from Brazil to blood-stirring music arranged by AS'N. Samba rhythms dominate, but mix with forró (think zydeco crossed with tango) and the African drumming that has been beating time in Brazil since slavery days. The music is recorded, but the dancers add rhythm layers with their pounding, stomping and clapping.
Correria has to do with running or racing; the word carries allusions to speed and suddenness. The dance begins with the sight of three pairs of pale strong feet running in the air; the light spreads to reveal three dark-clothed men on their backs. Once on their feet, they are joined by others who run circles around them until their speed frees them from orbit to spin and twist. Upside down, right side up or sideways, these dancers all do splendid things, including a number of interesting lifts, emphasizing running legs and feet, dashing offstage in between to change footgear or other costume items. The dance design also includes strong geometric patterning. The whole thing is packed with humorous intent, which becomes more obvious as the men work through theme and variations on running, going faster and faster. A video near the end underlines the point that for humans, running can feel like flying.
Agwa (Water) is even more thrilling visually, with Yoann Tivoli's rich lighting design integral to its success. The dance begins with the men in a line upstage from a maze of clear slender towers. Only after they've knocked them down do we see they are made from plastic cups and containers. There follows a highly patterned set of variations on the theme of water that includes gorgeous dancing, silly circus feats of balance, and many one-handstands, backflips, cartwheels and headspins, as well as many transformations of cups and water. Smart, funny and visually exciting, Agwa is also highly athletic. Yet when it ended, the dancers weren't through. Amid the glittering plastic detritus of Agwa, they cavorted through a series of encores, as the entire audience, standing, clapped out the rhythms.