More Hip than Hop and There is Plenty of Hop

A Review of Compagnie Kafig Presented by White Bird

It wasn’t before several minutes in to the performance that I actually recognized a certain move as a break step; I like going in with a clean slate and definitely a touch naïve. Regardless of my naiveté, the great thing about this group is their originality and energy, not the fact that it’s world-class hip-hop dance. Perhaps what threw me at the beginning was the utter lack of hip-hop music, or maybe it was three men on their shoulders doing the bicycle. Either way, Kafig is your indicator, meaning “Cage.” Take it ironically because I witnessed no limitations in this Compagnie (Comb-Pawn-Knee). A French choreographer with ten amazing Brazilian men — for once the husbands don’t have their usual beautiful women to enjoy while they appease their wives and worse off they have to realize they aren’t half the men these guys are – giving everyone amaze-face and a lot of applause to enjoy the last show of Whitebird’s 14th Season. And why not have this company for your final show? They know how to party and I think Whitebird is ready to celebrate.

Kafig gave us two performances, the first titled Correria (2010). The obvious theme you’ll pick up on are CIRCLES, opening with three men bicycling on their shoulders and the sound of film reeling. Enter two men with impressive acrobatic high-energy steps, ending the first song chasing each other round and round. In fact, I’ll say that the energy never slowed down, even if the music did and the steps became less frantic, it was a constant push, which the audience found exhilarating, cheering every few minutes — far more than your common dance performance – and this persisted all the way through the end with Agwa (2008). In fact, the closing dance was followed with encore. Once everybody was on their feet and volunteering a standing ovation, the company did the bow, then the individual dancers’ bow only psych us in to another dance to which everyone was standing and clapping the tempo to — older white ladies swinging their hips, yelping and carrying on — they hyped us good! My friend exclaimed, “That was so positive!” It’s true, they brought the energy, and they brought the dance. You don’t need grandiose symbolism; you can get the message across in a fun way and let people leave with that happiness. But, there is symbolism here. I really have digressed from the content. Let’s go in to that now.

Correria dealt with the shades of existence with that circular motif (I’ll come back to that) alongside an eclectic soundtrack threaded with the sound of film reeling – I remember this drone piece with movements fast and slow at once, upper body accenting the lower body, then with Indian raga singing to accent upon, round and round – between world music often with strong rhythms and occasionally in the modern electronic club sounds – but rarely hip hop — and I had no idea what to expect but a fun ride. And then the sense of humor became apparent with dancers saying off the wall things, unheard. For sure, this choreographer has a sense of humor. Agwa utilized plastic cups and water as the device and central theme of the choreography, with some funny situations. It starts with stacks of cups and a dance surrounding them. Immediately you have suspense; they might knock over the cups! And as cups are moved around and resituated, going through various processes, you’re all the while wondering if they’ll spill the water with flailing feet or wild limbs. But it’s not just that, it makes you think about water! If you aren’t considering how precious it is, you’re simply worried about them making a mess or mistake. One process: ten dancers with ten rows of empty cups, but one row filled ¼ full with water — it felt like a comment on optimism – carefully migrating the water to each row, sometimes standing to make little waterfalls in the plastic receptacle, sometimes lying on the ground, awkwardly transferring the liquid. When they made the top, water was added, a dancer carefully resituating the aisle, cup by cup.

Perhaps the reviewer is hung up on cups. Simply imagine ten acrobatic Brazilian men (which is not a simple ethnic stereotype by any stretch) in colorful shorts, doing this and many other fun things several hundred plastic cups, sometimes in flexible stacks, sometimes scattered in chaos across the stage. And the acrobatics! Back flips and amazing break-dancing steps, utilizing hands, arms, and balancing acts more than any other form you typically see. It’s like a contemporary dance show with high energy and a touch of circus and hip-hop tossed in. But they’re groove is consistently hip. Their acrobatics are the hop. And when you take my personal naiveté about the technicalities, it really just looks like a study of cultures, framed in a fun way within a sophisticated philosophy and choreography, performed by beautifully athletic men, with musical arrangements by AS’N that take you on a worldwide adventure. If these two pieces of the seventeen that Mourad Merzouki has established to the repertoire, then that is how I would like to describe the work of Kafig Compagnie. For to find out, I would have to curate my own performance and that is not simple, so at least I am fair to say, that is how they were last night.

For more information about Compagnie Kafig, you can visit Whitebird Dance at www.whitebird.org.




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