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2, 5-16: Kafig Times Two
Two Reviews, in Chicago and New York, of "Dix Versions"
By Jessica Swoyer
and Vanessa Manko
Copyright 2002 Jessica Swoyer and Vanessa
CHICAGO -- Compagnie Kafig rocked
the house in late April with its evening-length "Dix Versions" at the Dance Center
of Columbia College. The title suggests ten versions of collective choreography
and/or ten diversions using an eclectic wardrobe of dance styles, including '80s
brea-dancing, hip-hop, funk, contact, and capoiera. All ten vignettes, showcased
in a 75-minute excursion on the versions, explored different body types (short/tall,
big and small) while pushing the definition and understanding of hip-hop within
the dance world as an art form.
A Euro-version of the Beastie Boys
in their mechanic-like coverall body suits and toe-worn Addidas sneakers, this
French connection ignited the house immediately, the vibe heightening with anticipated
applause as the lights dimmed. Andalusian guitar spiced up western funk music
created by Franck II Louise. And the integration of video imagery with a light
smoky haze throughout the theater pumped the whole house into a music-video clubbing
extravaganza. With these elements Compagnie Kafig had taken the American break-dance
of the MTV '80s and turned it into a European disco-hall delicacy.
The French hip-hop dance scene saw
its conception in the early eighties. With the many American hip-hop troupes then
touring Europe with the b-boy culture, a strong influence was quickly adopted.
Particularly hip-hop, as well as rap and graffiti art, was found to be a vehicle
for self-expression. A voice for the European minority, hip-hop artists confronted
their harsh social conditions -- including welfare, crime and racism -- through
Although one Chicago critic noted
the lack of social or political commentary in "Dix Versions," as with most French
rap groups Kafig's message is pacifistic and subtle. The lyrics of Kafig's music
are in French and, like the work's title, suggest it plays with the ideas of diversity
-- acceptance of every color of the rainbow, and every shape and size -- but also
asks, "So what is our job in this sacred universe?" Knowing the words in advance
or as "Dix Versions" is performed is unnecessary, though, as the French adds ambiance
to the work; however one should not dismiss the gesture to include the lyrics'
translation in the program.
It is evident that Compagnie Kafig
has a mission. Lead by artistic director Mourad Merzouki, these dancers ask us
to re-evaluate the role of hip-hop in our current environment. When some may see
dance purely as a triviality in everyday life, there is no doubt the dancers of
Compagnie Kafig know their role in this world and their job in this "sacred universe."
"Dix Versions" does not depend on
complex spatial arrangements, or overly inventive props, but it does have an awareness
of these tools and with incredible lighting uses them most effectively, complementing
Breaking up the stage and simultaneously
serving as an on-stage "wing," three floor-to-ceiling white cloths are diagonally
staggered across the floor. Multi-functional effects are created from this simple
arrangement. The ability to hide a number of dancers at a time behind the cloths
allows for fun surprise exchanges of dancers. Video projection of the dancers
on the cloths creates duets and trios with only one live body on stage. In one
instance, the company's sole female performer begins her movement as a projection
on the cloth, and where her image moves off the cloth she picks up finishing the
movement in person. Throughout the ten petite-works we are taken for a journey
dipping in and out of a virtual world.
The fast pace and high energy of
the dancers is tempered at times, allowing us to take in the actual artistry and
beauty of break-dance. Head spins -- which are just plain impressive alone --
make for an upside-down whirling dervish fest when performed by all ten dancers
together. The control of the spin that is displayed is similar to that of a figure
skater's: there is no apparent spotting, and once they really get moving by torquing
the body in consecutive sections it becomes, "Look Ma, no hands!"
A particularly stunning moment is
a quartet halfway through the work. Three of the dancers kneel left to right in
a row, dancing an upper body adagio, while the fourth just spins away on his head,
the whole stage dark except for the hallway of light they move in. I didn't realize
before now that this kind of dance could be breathtaking and, well, elegant.
Funnier vignettes include a trio
with the dancer whose role in the company is to be the token "big guy" and two
others. Interacting with each other and overtly acknowledging the audience they
moon walk, belly roll, and isolate in places nobody thought isolateable while
calling out, "Comment ca va?" and "Yeah baby." The ability of these dancers to
move each section of their bodies in different directions creates crazy contortions
and in one case the illusion of a floating head.
The sustained lowering of the body
to the floor that break-dancing requires appears, on Kafig, effortless. And every
dancer dropping to the floor and back up again as if they were all two feet tall
made me re-think what exactly is "center of gravity." Each dancer has his or her
own signature move and rather endearingly enjoys sharing it with the audience.
We may have thought we were having fun, but with cheeky school boy grins it was
evident the dancers were having even more of a ball.
Funky moments involve large suspended
oval lanterns that the dancers place over their heads. Once again video of the
dancers -- this time of their faces -- is projected onto the lanterns, creating
a caricature effect. Their normal-sized bodies now appear tiny and disproportioned,
sticking out from underneath their magnified heads. And not only can this group
move but they can make music too. In another section three dancers are hooked
up to voice boxes, making awesome electronic sounds while jamming to their own
While some modern dance companies
-- Doug Elkins for example -- incorporate street dance in their choreographic
style, it is often diluted with more abstract movement. Compagnie Kafig, on the
other hand, is the evolution of street dance and has the endurance to prove it.
A standing ovation for this group was not enough. After an encore, the company
invited the audience to go for a spin on stage, and a few brave souls took up
the invitation, rather well I might add for mid-western folk. So next time Kafig
is in your neck of the woods, go on, get your Devo suit and check it.
-- Jessica Swoyer
NEW YORK -- To say Compagnie Kafig's "Dix Versions," being presented by Dance
Theater Workshop at the Joyce this week, is a crowd pleaser is an understatement.
Seen Tuesday, this Lyon-based company's mix of hip-hop, break dance, acrobatics,
and visual effects roused the mid-week audience to exuberant applause. Compagnie
Kafig's style is derived directly from street-dancing, and, without losing the
spontaneity that is integral to this dance form, the company has managed to bring
this unconventional dance genre to the concert stage in what makes for a truly
entertaining evening, one filled with virtuosity, humor, and a dynamic stage energy.
"Dix Versions," in particular, is
a light-hearted, infectious entertaining series of dance interludes. Each of the
ten sections incorporates visual effects or geometrical stage props that become
an extension of the choreography. In futuristic, almost StarTrek-like jumpsuits
of bland grays and whites, dancers isolate and undulate; one moment they seem
to have no joints, fluidly rippling, bending, and cajoling their bodies, and the
next, they were all angles, articulating staccato isolations as if they are robotic
mannequins. At some points the stage becomes a trampoline; dancers jump from mid-air
to the floor and into and out of handstands or back-flips. Amazingly, they always
recover gracefully and unscathed.
The trance music in the score is
clearly an integral part of the dancing, spurring the performers onwards with
every riff and beat.
Three stage-length panels of cloth
are draped vertically down the stage as the evening opens. It's a tentative beginning,
with dancers breakiing and moving in and around the panels with ease and dexterity.
They execute one-armed handstands and shoulder roles with a natural ease. Film
images are projected on the panels, with live dancers performing alongside celluloid
ones. Other physical and visual tricks abound throughout the work. Perhaps one
of the most startling technical feats is the ability of the dancers to move their
bodies in intensified isolation, to such a degree that it's as if a strobe light
is reflected on them in a dark room.
The minute, lightning-quick movements
or pulses of arm, shoulder, or neck flickers through the body is simply unreal.
In order to import this sort of
dance into a theatrical atmosphere, visual effects and stage props have been added.
The piece moves from the rather straightforward, pure dance sections to segments
which present a more complex use of the stage space. Here, the dancers experiment
with the same break-dance and hip-hop moves by dancing on large geometrical blocks
and blow-up shapes. They perform cartwheels over a large circular disk, or back-flip
off a square box. Ultimately, the addition of such props allows for the performers
to make use of the stage in creative ways. At one point, four dancers, each hiding
either their legs or torsos behind the stage props, merge into what looks like
one large dancer with amazingly long legs. One seemingly superfluous section,
in which the props were used rather confusedly, included three dancers, with what
I can only think to call oxygen tubes attached to their faces, performing hip
hop. Certainly if not all ten, then this one of the "Dix Versions" fell flat.
While this troupe is made up mostly of petite, compact, amazingly strong dancers,
there is one exception: Julio "Clown" Santiago, whose large frame challenges the
traditional physique of a dancer. This dancer moves with the same dexterity and
fluidity as the smaller dancer he often performs with. He is the clown or trickster
in the work, sneaking onto the stage, scaring the other dancers, and isolating
not only his neck and shoulders, but also his stomach.
An array of hip-hop, shoulder-spinning
and full-out acrobatics concludes the work. It is an energetic and lively finale.
One dancer in particular stupefies the viewer when, after spinning on his head,
he raises his legs slowly and steadily into the air while still turning round
and round. While some sections were far from perfect, the piece as a whole deserves
approval, for it brings the dancing of the streets and onto the concert stage
without losing the essence of the form. In short, the spontaneity and camaraderie
is still present and rubs off on the audience. Other dancers included Kareem Beddaoudia,
Kader Belmoktar, Outhay Bouttavong, Bintou Dembele, Najib Guerfi, Chad Mehala,
artistic Mourad Merzouki and Hafid Sour.
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