Vertikal looks up

In Merzouki’s new work, Vertikal, he draws the audience’s eyes upward with the use of equipment most often associated with climbing and rappelling.

 MOURAD MERZOUKI’S new work, ‘Vertikal.’ (photo credit: LAURENT PHILIPPE)
MOURAD MERZOUKI’S new work, ‘Vertikal.’
(photo credit: LAURENT PHILIPPE)

The upper half of most rooms is often completely unused. Be it in homes, schools or stages, we rarely look up. In the movie Dead Poets Society, Robin Williams implores his students to climb onto his desk to give them a much-needed change of perspective.

In Mourad Merzouki’s new work, Vertikal, he draws the audience’s eyes upward with the use of equipment most often associated with climbing and rappelling.

“The process started with an encounter with the vertical dance company Retouramont,” explained Merzouki in a recent interview with The Jerusalem Post. “This company has a rather incredible working space, made of climbing walls. They do a lot of outdoor performances; the artists are suspended via hanging systems, and they dance against the walls of buildings. When starting a new creation project, I decided to confront my dance with this device, to push it towards other possibilities, to shake up my relationship to space, to the body and to choreography.”

Merzouki, 48, is one of the most innovative choreographers in the world. Originally from Lyon, France, he was exposed to hip-hop dance as a teenager. His immediate love for, and talent in, movement led him to explore further techniques and styles.

His choreographic works draw together genres of dance as well as other artistic forms such as video, technological interfaces and circus.

Merzouki is the director of the National Choreography Center du Creteil et du Val-de-Marne in the suburbs of Paris. His company, Compagnie Kafig, has performed the world over to great acclaim.

Six years ago, he brought the work Pixel to Israel for performances at the Herzliya Performing Arts Center. Next month, he will return to Herzliya with Vertikal.

From the inspiration point, Merzouki and his skilled dancers had a long path to making the equipment work for them.

“Dancing in the air requires specific training; it cannot be improvised, because it is very technical. In one part of the cast, there are aerial dancers who were already specialized; another part of the cast, the hip-hop dancers, were trained especially for this show. Handling the apparatus is very physical, uncomfortable, and even painful when you are not used to it. Making it their own requires a fairly long learning curve. We devoted the first rehearsals to this. It was only after this phase that we could concentrate on the choreographic research,” said Merzouki.

“After much rehearsing, they became familiar with the equipment and integrated it into their dance. Several years after the creation, I observe today how they manage to forget the technical constraint; they are totally free of it. And finally, in their movements, it appears as a continuation of what they are looking for when they train on the floor: going higher, turning more, giving an impression of lightness and floating.”

Merzouki describes this work, which has been presented on stages since May 2019, as light, virtuosic and poetic. Indeed, Vertikal may have the same effect as Williams’s ploy with his students, to help the audience look at the stage from a different angle.

Vertikal will be presented at the Herzliya Performing Arts Center on May 25-28. For more information, visit