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Compagnie Kafig - 'Corps Est Graphique'

From street to stage

by Stuart Sweeney

May 13, 2005 -- Churchill Theatre, Bromley, England

Compagnie Kafig, the French hip-hop company, is currently on a ten venue UK tour and I caught up with them at the Churchill Theatre, Bromley. The tour is organised by the Dance Consortium, a successful concept that enriches dance around the country. The Consortium members are 22 theatres from the Scottish Highlands to Cornwall plus a central administration function. This year, they will bring four companies, including Alvin Ailey, to the UK to perform at various sub-sets of the member theatres. Thus, costs can be shared, companies enjoy the benefit of an artist-friendly, efficient organisation and audiences see work that otherwise might not venture to their area.

The organisation receives substantial support from Arts Council England and has an excellent website, well worth a look for its background articles as well as details of the various companies -- Heather Knight, one of the leading arts administrators in the UK is shepherding Compagnie Kafig around the country and her devotion to looking after the dancers is clear to see.

Kafig’s “Corps Est Graphique” was innovatory programming for the Churchill Theatre and the management told me they were pleased with the result - a decent, if not full house enjoyed the energy and skill of the dancers and hopefully will return for future dance offerings, which include Nederlands Dans Theater 2.

There’s no question that hip-hop can be both technically demanding and exciting; the problem lies in the transfer from the street or club floor to the stage. Different directors experiment with various approaches.  For instance, Rennie Harris re-cast the classic romantic tragedy into “Rome and Jules” with interludes for MCs and competitive display. Compagnie Kafig’s eight men and women showcase hip-hop in all its varieties but set within a tightly choreographed framework rather than a competition. It’s a cheery, light as a feather show with decent visuals, including duets with pre-recorded material. Initially the dancers wear black and white liquorice head pieces that Artistic Director Mourad Merzouki told us were intended to draw attention to the body. First we see the four men and then the women and then all eight together and this initial concept worked for a while, but I was relieved when eventually the head dresses came off and we could see their faces - dance needs to be personalised.

In its 60-minutes, there is much ensemble work with good synchronisation as well as solos, all to a recorded North African/hip-hop fusion score that is pleasant, but lacks excitement and variety. And, therein lies the central problem – it is over-managed and lacks the sense of danger and surprise that is a powerful component of hip-hop. The women stick mainly to the upright styles, which the excellent programme told me are popping and back-slide, among others. This leaves the men to steal the show with the head spins and other moves that demand such powerful upper bodies, as ballerina Deborah Bull discovered when she tried this dance style. Nevertheless, Ana Ivacheff’s solo on top of a light box showed that she is a musical, sensuous performer and Sadia Lbaz was always fleet of foot. The star was Karim Beddaoudia whose compact shape is a help rather than a hindrance. Apart from extraordinary feats spinning on his head for ever and ever, he has a strong presence and fine comic timing and the show lights up whenever he is on stage.

“Corps Est Graphique” is a creditable exploration of how to set hip-hop on stage and the Bromley fans went away very happy. I look forward to seeing Compagnie Kafig again, but I’ll hope for more edge and a stronger sense of the dance style’s roots.


Edited by Staff.

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