In Compagnie Kafig’s dynamic Spoleto opener, arms became legs, heads became feet and up became down as the 11-member, all-male troupe filled the vacuous TD Arena with as much charm, machismo and raw energy as possible.
Artistic Director Mourad Merzouli uses hip-hop as his medium in unexpected and delightful ways. He blends martial and circus arts, as well as capoeira, into sequences of explosive movement adding ingredients of theater, humor and imagination.
The first piece, “Correria,” explored the theme of running. Dancers began on the floor on their backs, their legs in the air, while fists pound on the floor, introducing the element of rhythm.
Soon other dancers enter, running at high speeds, and it is immediately apparent that the style is casual and unrefined, full of attitude and intention. Dancers show the sheer physicality of running through life and time, which slows for no one. Bones often seem like jelly.
The work is strongest when the whole troupe dances together, but it is in the solos and duets where Merzouki fully explores his ideas and allows his playfulness to be developed. At one point, an unexpected and welcome turn comes with a solo, an operatic spoof that includes projected images of a runner taking flight.
The rest of the group enters using wooden legs and begins to dance with four legs instead of two, developing the dance in a more theatrical direction and opening up even more possibilities for movement.
In “Agwa,” stacks of cups covered the stage that was brilliantly lit by Yoann Tivoli. A duet begins and the dancers move with fluid gestures interspersed with body isolations executed at jack-hammer speed to a musical collection of many genres, including sounds of running water interplayed with classical music and ethnic selections by musical director AS’N.
The cups are rearranged and the men move through them in inventive ways with back flips, rolls and one awe-inspiring, head-spinning sequence. One humorous moment has three men using stacks of cups as their imaginary partners. Another highlight occurs when the dancers wear clear rain ponchos amid storm sounds, indicating that as much as water is needed, it’s also a hazard.
The transformation of the arena was the nearly perfect match for the athleticism of these Brazilian dancers. But there is only so much that can be done with black curtains, and the space is vacuous with many seats too far from the stage. Street dance should be up close and personal.