More than two-thirds of the globe and more than half of the human body is made up of water. It is an inseparable part of daily life for all living creatures. From the tears we cry to the drips from a leaky faucet, there is no denying the presence of water in our lives.

When approaching a group of dancers he had never met before in a country far from his own, French choreographer Mourad Merzouki chose water as his starting point.

“The story is water,” Merzouki tells The Jerusalem Post. “You have questions about water all over the world. I tried to find some questions that are relevant in Brazil, in France and everywhere else.”

The ensuing exploration, which includes the 11 dazzling performers of Companie Kafig from Rio de Janeiro, culminated in the creation of Agwa, which will be presented in Israel beginning next week.

At age 40, Merzouki stands out as a unique voice in the French dance community. His ability to blend different styles into cohesive, engaging productions has brought him to the forefront of cutting-edge dance. It is perhaps because of his desire to reach out to other cultures through movement that he was singled out for the task of putting together Companie Kafig.

Guy Darmet, of the Maison de la Danse in Lyons, approached Merzouki to create this program five years ago.

“He lives in France and Rio,” explains Merzouki. “I’ve known him for a long time, and he asked me if I wanted to work with these young dancers from Brazil. He saw the talent of these dancers who, at the time, had no choreographer. I was very surprised when I met them because they have a lot of passion for dance. They want to travel and meet the world through dance. So I made this show for them.”

The premiere of Agwa took place in 2008 in France and immediately drew the attention of international programmers. Since then, Agwa has made the rounds in Europe and farther afield.

The performance is a combination of many elements brought to the table by Merzouki and his dancers. They managed to harness samba, capoeira, hip hop, breakdance and bossa nova in Agwa.

Aside from his theme of water, Merzouki dug deep into his past to find a way to connect with his artistic team.

“I started dancing hip hop when I was young,” he explains. From hip hop, Merzouki broadened his horizons to include modern and contemporary dance. He went on to work with a number of celebrated choreographers, including Maryse Delente, Jean Francois Duroure and Josef Nadj. Today, Merzouki is the acting director of the National Center of Choreography in Creteil and, though his work has come to include many forms of dance, hip hop remains particularly close to his heart.

“When I practice hip hop, I like it because I get to meet people. I get to change minds about society. In the beginning, people thought hip hop was only for the young. But I think it is for everyone. I’m sure that hip hop can engage many people. I think it is a dance form just like classic or contemporary.”

On stage, the powerful dancers are surrounded by plastic cups, which Merzouki says were brought in as a solution to a budgetary problem. Like many of the best artistic decisions, Merzouki stumbled upon what became a deeply accessible theme in Agwa by chance.

“When I started to work on the show, the production was very low budget. It’s very far from France to Brazil, so I couldn’t work with a big set. In my shows, I like to work with set design; but with this show, there weren’t a lot of options. I tried to find light, small, inexpensive things. When I found the cups, I saw that they were very beautiful with the light and the dance. Plus, they’re easy to find all over the world.”

For Merzouki, Agwa provided a rare opportunity to explore a different culture through a creative process. This, he explains, is the most thrilling thing that can happen to an artist.

“If, like me, you don’t speak English well, it’s hard to meet people. Dance is a universal language, and it allows me to get in touch with people all over the world. I need to meet people. When I meet them, I see the world differently,” he says.

In addition to the performance, there will be an exhibition during Companie Kafig’s stay in Israel called “Back/Flip.” Curated by Uri Betzon, it presents a variety of works by students and graduates of Beit Berl College that were inspired by Agwa. Most of the pieces are representative of different facets of street art, which has become increasing popular in recent years. Graffiti, photography and painting have all been invoked to convey the experience of watching Kafig. The exhibition will be on display at the Herzliya Performing Arts Center until from the beginning of March.

Agwa will be performed on February 26-March 2 at the Herzliya Performing Arts Center (www.hoh-herzliya.co.il); March 4 at the Beersheba Performing Arts Center (www.mishkan7.co.il); March 5 at the Haifa Auditorium (www.garber-tickets.co.il); and March 6 at the Jerusalem Theater (www.jerusalem-theater.co.il).




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