Artistic director Mourad Merzouki brought his Compagnie Käfig to Westbrook Performing Arts Center on Tuesday for a high-energy evening of dance and spectacle presented by Portland Ovations.

The circus-trained Merzouki and his troupe of male dancers cooperatively choreographed the evening’s two pieces, “Correria” (running) and “Agwa” (water), around hip-hop movement and ethos, with slick unisons, formations and partnerships.

Lighting designer Yoann Tivoli created striking contrasts and dramatic mood changes, while musical arranger AS’N used a broad, often hypnotic, palate of musical styles, from unadorned percussion (including both drums and hand-drumming or clapping) to Spanish, Mediterranean and operatic segments.

Each piece’s theme was overtly portrayed. “Correria” opened with the men lying on their backs bicycling their legs in the air and included a long sequence in which one dancer performed theatrical running in place against a projection of himself sped up until the running legs blurred, while the other dancers “ran” their legs in the air, again lying on their backs.

In “Agwa,” dozens of clear plastic cups were used rather brilliantly as scenery and props, first in stacks, then strewn around the stage, then undulating in smaller stacks held by several dancers, and finally strewn again, resembling soap bubbles around the floor. In between, the dancers crawled and danced amid the cups, pouring water from one to another, almost like a magic show.

Throughout both pieces, the choreography kept up a frantic pace, with virtuosic headstands and spins, shoulder-stands and other inversions, leaps, flips and twists all integrated into a smoothly progressing whole. The dancers were extremely athletic, and their street-dance authenticity combined with stage-ready precision.


Part of the visual and artistic magnetism of this group was the dancers’ diversity. The men were tall and short, short-haired and long-haired, muscular or softer in appearance and of different complexions.

The printed program contained not a word about the company or the dancers, but Portland Ovations’ website notes that while Merzouki is French, the performers for this production are “male street dancers from Brazil’s favelas” (shantytowns), and each of the names listed in the program included the dancer’s nickname.

Hip-hop has been crossing the line between street and stage in recent years, with varying results. Here, the choreography seemed to reflect Merzouki’s background in circus, rather than the jazz dance that often influences on-stage hip-hop.

The dancers were impressively polished and disciplined – as seen most strikingly in precise unison, formations and effects – while still projecting a sense of spontaneous, non-regimented physical expression.

Compagnie Käfig drew an excited audience, including many young adults. Unfortunately, many in crowd were unwilling to detach themselves from their electronic devices; within just two rows at least five cameras were flashing at one point in the performance and video recordings also were made.

After “Agwa,” the troupe gave two encores as the audience stood clapping along. Dancers and watchers seemed unwilling to let go of one another.

Jennifer Brewer is a freelance writer from Saco.

Comments are no longer available on this story