Last night, in the TD Arena at College of Charleston, the Brazilian hip-hop all-male dance troupe, Compagnie Käfig, opened to a nearly full house. The 11 dancers, led by founder, artistic director, choreographer, and fellow dancer, Mourad Merzouki, performed two pieces, "Correria," (Portuguese for "running"), and "Agwa" ("water"). Though the dancers have much potential, the overall show doesn't quite hold together yet.
The lighting by Yoann Tivoli is effectively dramatic. For instance, "Correria" begins in darkness, with only three lit pairs of feet "running" in the air (the men lie prone). In this first piece, the dancers bathe in an uneasy yellow light; in "Agwa," red light emphasizes the passion and joy of life.
At first, there were a few kinks in the sound system — a bit of feedback, but the issue was quickly resolved.
The music (arrangements by AS'N) is eclectic, from hip-hop to bossa nova to opera. Throughout there's an interesting mix of high and low culture. (In a couple of places, the dancers hip-hop to opera!) To complement the music, the dancers also chant and beat their palms on the floor for rhythmic emphasis. The effect is raw and primal. At times the hands on the floor give the sound effects of tap dancing, though the guys front and center are performing hip-hop moves. However, some of the more grandiose music makes the choreography feels too tame for the music.
Delphine Capossela's costumes are simple, reflecting daily street life: guys working, struggling, celebrating. In "Correria," the dancers wear black loose pants and different white and beige shirts; the lack of uniformity reflects the individuality of each. In "Agwa," the guys are shirtless, and in orange and tan shorts.
Overall, the hip-hop steps are fairly old-school and might benefit from a little updating and more variety. The dancing looks great when the dancers are in sync, but often they are not. Since most of the movement is fairly simple, the steps need to be flawlessly in sync. If the idea is for the style to be more raw (guys just having a good time), fine, but it seems like more of a question of practice, since the best parts are tightly in-sync.
"Correria" lives up to its title — there is lots and lots of running around in circles. I overheard an audience member say, "I'm trying to understand what is the reasoning behind all the running. I am trying to connect." And this, I thought, is the problem: it's unclear what the vision is. Modern dance is notorious for its obscurity, but in this case, it feels like we need more understanding of the grand vision.
The performance is certainly not without merit. There are cool partnering stunts: in one spot a guy holds his partner up to the side as he "runs" in air. There is a charming and funny pas de deux set to opera. There are backflips on a stage covered with cups of water. Interesting special effects include, at the end of "Correria," a dancer running in front of an old black and white film of someone running while other dancers lie down bicycling faster and faster.
The show is not all stunts and gymnastics, either; there is inventive detail on a smaller scale: for instance, there's a moment where dancers lie on their stomachs and dance with their fingers, finger-walking around their glasses of water (however, if you sit at any distance, much of the tiny details are unfortunately lost).
There are innovative uses of props. In "Correria" dancers use metal golf-club-like "legs," extra appendages made for interesting choreography; this part is very controlled and in-sync. In "Agwa" (a much more satisfying piece, overall), there is a set-up of intricate configurations of clear plastic cups of water — some single, some built up like Legos — that soon get smashed and then rearranged in neat even lines. Dancers perform tricks with tall stacks of cups they use like slinkies.
The dancing is technically not great, overall, but the best moments, by far, are the individual dancers' solos that allow them to shine. One example is in "Correria" when the soloist incorporates slow-motion mime-like movements that range from very controlled to frenetic. Another awesome soloist, the speaker in "Agwa," is in a class all by himself. The most exciting moment of the night is in "Agwa" when one dancer spins on his head for an exceptionally long time, even amid the tumbling of plastic cups all across stage.
The show as a whole drags in spots (even in a one-hour 15-minute show), so I found myself waiting for those moments of brilliance. The crowd seemed fairly disengaged. Though not wowed, they applauded and laughed in a couple of places, such as when dancers arrive in clear plastic ponchos during "Agwa."
The dancers are extremely likeable and show their appreciation for their audience; after the show, they came back out for a couple of fun, upbeat, more freestyle dances. Their love of dance is obvious. All in all, it's a good faith effort, but something's missing.