'Vertikal' offers aerial delights - review

Performance company Kafig (cage in Arabic) brought one of Mourad Merzouki’s greatest hits - Vertikal, to Israel.

 THE KAFIG Company in action with ‘Vertikal.’  (photo credit: LAURENT PHILIPPE)
THE KAFIG Company in action with ‘Vertikal.’
(photo credit: LAURENT PHILIPPE)

Performance company Kafig (cage in Arabic) brought one of Mourad Merzouki’s greatest hits - Vertikal, to Israel. It’s a merge of aerial acrobatics, Hip Hop and a list of other sources of inspiration like contact improvisation, circus, physical theater and more.

Mourad Merzouki

Thirty-some years ago, the young Merzouki worked with a group of talented Hip Hop dancers who set their mind to take that street art, using their creative urges, and turn it into a worthy stage act. In the late eighties, it was a truly subversive concept that, against the odds, spread and found enthused audiences. 

Merzouki, Kader Attou and others received unexpected support from French festival directors with a soft spot for artistic adventures. It was the right time politically to back up that trend and support new groups and dancers from the suburbs with generous public money. Merzouki soon moved from his first company Accrorap (1989) to open his own company – Kafig (1996). He premiered Vertikal at the Biannual festival in Lyon, which paved his way to international success. 

Among his successful works we find Agwa – with a humble, yet memorable set of plastic water cups which covered the stage’s floor, a work he presented in Israel a while ago – and Pixel, with its compelling digital lighting system and many more.


Vertikal linked Merzouki’s early interest in the circus while his cultural roots were in Break Dance and Hip Hop. That resulted in aerial dance on legitimate stages, representing fluidity, weightless and delicate spiritual yearnings that were encountered through Vertikal the earthy, crude cement street corners – birthplace of that street-art.

The work had changed somewhat since its 2018 Lyon premiere. It received a more sophisticated polish, yet, the fact that it relies extensively on technical aids, cables and oversize set items, left an unfulfilled craving for the soul. The work, too busy with establishing its stylistic vocabulary, loaded endless repetitions and was slow to reveal its movement’s treasure such as the falling back with a rigid body, which requires absolute trust on one’s partners but produces stunning moments. 

Undeniably, there were many moments of beauty and fine esthetics such as the strong first duet, the wall climbing secured by cables, the jumps and floating in mid-air, the hair raising moments while dancers relied on thin wooden pegs to stay upside down on the high walls.

With all the activities on the first half of Vertikal, the work seemed slow to ignite.

It was much later that the action climaxed. Finally, effective lighting design seemed to charge the stage, the dancers simultaneously pushing themselves hard and charging their bodies way higher, faster and faster, and flew vertically like missiles.

It was a scene to remember as technology transcended into poetic statements, be it vertical, horizontal, or spins in mid air. We finally got our deserved taste of aerial delights.