Compagnie Kafig is hot. Known for successfully putting hip-hop dance on the concert stage, the French-based company tours extensively and is a regular at the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival. And artistic director Mourad Merzouki has received major French prizes; in 2012, he was named a Knight of the Legion of Honour. In Kafig’s San Diego debut last Wednesday, the first of two pieces, “Correria,” demonstrated the all-male company’s energy and range, which goes way beyond hip-hop to include circus, Afro-Brazilian as well as contemporary dance, the Brazilian martial art form capoeira, and terrific theatricality; the one thing missing was the sense of a complete artistic experience. It took the second piece, “Agwa,” to deliver everything, not just virtuosity but magic, and make clear what all the fuss is about.
“Agwa” is how you’d pronounce agua – water – in Portuguese, the language of the 11 dancers in this iteration of Kafig. (It’s a bit confusing – and the sometimes bizarrely translated program didn’t help – but I get the impression that Merzouki uses different casts for different dances.)
“Agwa” opens with stacks of plastic cups knocked every which way when a riot of dancers rushes onstage. Then one man, subtle moves rippling through his chest and arms, says, “We must redo everything” as the rest, dimly lit, crawl across the floor. (Yoann Tivoli did the splendid lighting design.) When the crawlers reach the other side, it turns out they’ve lined up the cups in a perfect grid. Water is gently poured from one cup to another. Dancers do handsprings (Merzouki initially trained in circus arts) through the grid without knocking one cup over. There’s a clownish bit with clear plastic rain ponchos. One dancer does b-boy spins on his head for a ridiculously long time. Arms raise to heaven a la West African dance. The sound design (by AS’N) giddily travels from a contemporary choral to traffic noises to urgent strings to something that sounds Balkan. It’s rapturous and holy.
“Agwa” was created in 2008, and “Correria,” made two years later, uses many similar ingredients – the array of movement and musical styles, the humor. And although “Correria” doesn’t achieve the sublime clarity, there are some delicious images. In a lovely, mysterious section to what sounds like Arabic flute music, two dancers fling themselves into the air while a group does slow, winglike arm movements behind them, like witnesses at a ritual. It’s comic when the dancers use “false legs,” sticks with shoes attached, as props. And throughout, there are plays on the “running” in the title.
The biggest downside about this show was that there were too many empty seats. Which leads me to make a pitch for the next ArtPower! dance show – Aszure Barton on February 19. ArtPower! brings some of the most exciting dance in the world to San Diego. Don’t miss it!