Sunday, April 12, 2015

Compagnie Käfig at the Playhouse

DanceHouse ended its 2014-15 season in a rousing fashion last night with the Vancouver premiere of Compagnie Käfig, a hybrid, polyglot evening of hip hop featuring a company of eleven amazing male dancers from Brazil, with artistic direction by the Algerian-French choreographer Mourad Merzouko (of Centre Choréographique de Créteil et du Val-de-Marne) and choreographic contributions by three other French and one other Brazilian artists. In this case, many cooks definitely makes for a steamy, sexy pot.

The piece opens with the dancers clumped together against a backlit scrim positioned upstage. Slowly a hand emerges, extends upwards, and spreads its fingers in a fluid sequence vaguely reminiscent of voguing. Eventually, as one of the members accompanies the rest of the company on what I took to be a traditional samba instrument, while also vocalizing a succession of beats, the men spread--or rather, glide--across the dance floor, toprocking in a fast and rhythmically compelling coordination of steps and arm waves before heading down to the floor to bust various individual power moves (back and shoulder spins, headstands, swipes, acrobatic flips) and freezes.

Indeed, what was so fascinating about last night's performance was the thoroughly intertwined mix of freestyle elements and clearly choreographed unison movement. These men are eminently watchable even when they are just bobbing their heads together. But add in differences in tempo, spatial configuration and lightning-quick changes in the quality of movement--in which the dancers switch from poeticism to power in the space of a few beats--and one sees just how much work has gone into this collaboration of styles.

Of course it helps that the company is very easy on the eyes. At the start of the piece the dancers are all properly--even somewhat formally--attired in dress shirts and ties. By the end, however, they are shirtless, their torsos glistening with sweat as they display their well-toned abs. That alone was worth the standing ovation they received--even before they treated us to a short freestylin' encore.

In his curtain speech before the show, DanceHouse producer Jim Smith announced next season's line-up, which includes a visit by another Brazilian company, Companhia Urbana de Dança. Also on tap is the Hofesh Schechter Company and the Vancouver premiere of Crytal Pite's newest work, Betroffenheit, a collaboration between her company Kidd Pivot and Electric Company Theatre that will premiere later this summer in Toronto as part of the cultural component of the Pan Am Games. It's a shorter season that normal for DanceHouse (only three shows instead of the usual four), but with Schechter and Pite as part of the schedule, it should be memorable.


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