Portfolio of Kimberly Johans

A collection of articles created during my stint as a journalist at The Macau Daily Times

Letting Kafig out of its cage

Posted by Kimberly on June 8, 2007

By Kimberly Johans
Published in The Macau Daily Times
June 8, 2007, page 2 (1,076 words)

There have been criticisms from hip hop purists as to Mourad Merzouki’s interpretation of the dance form, but for the 33-year-old French-born Algerian, it’s like water off a duck’s back.
“Hip hop has existed for 25 years and like any other artistic movement such as jazz or rock, when it came to be institutionalised, there was criticism from purists but they’ve come to realise that hip hop has survived because we have brought something new to the culture,” he says.
Produced by his dance company Kafig, his latest choreography titled ‘Terrain Vague’ (wasteland) encompasses not only hip hop moves but also circus acrobatics, theatre and an original soundtrack. The show is certain to hold the audience enthralled for the entire one hour of the show, to be held in the small auditorium of the Macau Cultural Centre on June 8 and 9.
“Terrain Vague is this place where I used to play when I was a kid. It was a space for expression. These areas surround the neighbourhood and are abandoned areas where you can feel free to do what you want. In this place loads of people meet and pass by.
“I wanted to dedicate the show to these places because now these places are becoming more and more rare, because there are being changed into more conventional areas and I’m nostalgic of the time when these places were nothing but a tyre or a rope or something you could invent a space for playing,” he says.
When questioned about the word ‘Kafig’ which means imprisonment in both German and Arabic, Mourad says, “Kafig was the name of the first show and basically this show was involving German and Arabic dancers.
“The fact that Kafig means ‘imprisonment’ in both languages, I found it was a good idea to go against this idea of imprisonment as dance is liberation,” he says.
With 18 months spent choreographing the show and six months of rehearsing, the current production has been performed some 150 times already, taking the troupe through Eastern Europe, Korea and their native France, among other countries.
For Mourad, performing is a means of meeting new people and earning more about the places he visits.
“We went to the Middle East, recently to Palestine Jordan and Lebanon and did a show. For me its important, because when I’m in France I see what happens [on TV] but I don’t understand so when I meet people and speak to them, I understand more of the world,” he says.
He adds that the simplicity in sharing dance with different cultures is that it is a universal language.
Asked where he gets his inspiration from, Mourad says, “from everyday life. Day after day, travelling and meeting people, I get this inspiration and I try to get a vision of what I want to do.”
At the age of seven, he was introduced to a circus school by his brother, a school that was more orientated towards martial arts.
“I practised circus and martial arts until I was 17 and then the hip hop culture came to France.
“Because I was coming from the neighbourhood, it was becoming a part of my culture, so for me it was very obvious to mix what I knew from the circus and martial arts with this new sort of culture,” he says, adding that the acrobatic style of the circus was similar to hip hop which appealed to him.
It’s unrealistic to expect that ten years of such hard-hitting performances don’t result in injuries of some sort. Mourad laughs out loud at the query, admitting he’s injured himself on two occasions.
“I was doing acrobatics and fell on my head. It was quite serious so I had to stop practising for one and a half years.
“The other time was when I was starting to create my own show and I was practising on a trampoline and I fell from it,” he says.
With nine dancers in the company, ranging from 22 years to 34 years and two of them female, the dancers come from a variety of backgrounds, both cultural and theatrical.
“When I work with people, I don’t think about the origin. France is a country with mixed races,” says Mourad.
Asked why he had chosen to include two female dancers in what is predominantly a male form of expression, Mourad says laughingly, “because people kept asking why are there only males?”
He adds that more and more women are auditioning and considers it to be a good mix.
“Even in a still position, the body of a woman is something different, so bringing this into a show is always going to enrich it,” he says.
For Mourad, the past ten years have been a fairytale.
“I’m really happy with what’s happening with me now. It’s my destiny. I hope it will last for a long time,” he says.
He hopes that the image people have of hip hop will change after seeing his show.
“For example when I was in Poland, people were telling me that hip hop is violent, but actually they had a different view of it after seeing the show.
“As well, in the show I want to show that the common image people have of the ghetto being violent generally, I want to show that these people can be positive and creative, giving another image,” he says.
Despite the rain yesterday morning, Mourad had the opportunity to indulge in some running, an activity he uses as a means of relaxation.
Asked if he had any others, he says wickedly, “I smoke and I drink!” but also adds that, “in my free time or when I’m in a plane or train, I like to read a lot and learn more.
“When I was younger in school I didn’t like to read or learn. I didn’t like school. Now I’m enjoying it and I’m trying to catch up.”
He lists author Paulo Coehlo as one of his favourites, adding “I also like to read about real life stories, about people that face struggle because it allows me to look upon different experiences and learn. I am curious!”
With future plans including a collaboration with the Beijing Ballet and the Lyon Philharmonic Orchestra, as well as a hopeful opportunity to work with children, Mourad is sure to need all the energy he can muster. It’s just as well he and his awe-inspiring company of dancers have plenty to spare.

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