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Steve Sucato,  |  March 09, 2015

Compagnie Kafig moves and dazzles DanceCleveland crowd with Brazilian hip-hop

When award-winning French choreographer Mourad Merzouki was introduced to a group of street dancers from the Rio de Janeiro shanty towns known as favelas in 2006, he couldn't have foreseen how their raw talent paired with his choreographic vision would have struck such a positive chord with audiences worldwide.

The all-male Compagnie Kfig's current touring show which has met with rave reviews the past few years pulled into Playhouse Square's Ohio Theatre Saturday night and here too the program wowed with a mixture of enthusiastic dancing, humor and clever choreography.

Presented by DANCECleveland, the program opened with the first of Merzouki's two 30-minute works, "Correria" (running). Created in 2010 and set to a music mix arranged by French hip-hop music artist AS'N, the work, which blended hip-hop, capoeira and samba dance styles, symbolized the frantic speed of modern-day life.

In it, Merzouki's inventive choreography played to its theme with the dancers moving at a hectic pace. One early scene featured a pair of dancers center stage in spotlight flowing through a lively and cheeky dance sequence mugging to the audience while several of their fellow dancers ran in a circle around them.

Merzouki juxtaposed scenes like that with several thoughtful and dramatic ones. None more powerful and captivating than a section set to haunting Middle Eastern music that began with a solo by dancer Diego Alves Dos Santos (a.k.a. Dieguinho).

The shirtless Dos Santos exuded skill and machismo in an adroit sequence of hip hop dance moves infused with articulated hand and finger gestures, whirling arms, and succinct head bobs. During the solo, several of the work's remaining ten dancers advanced on him in slow motion runs creating a visually mesmerizing set of images.

Dos Santos was then joined by dancer Alexsandro Soares Campanha Da Silva (a.k.a. Pitt) creating a duet of equally striking silky, acrobatic dancing that included a show-stopping, no-arm layout front flip performed by Dos Santos that had the top of his head kiss the stage floor as he flipped before landing straight-up, arms to his sides, as the audience went into an approving uproar.

With "Correria," Merzouki showed his in-depth skills as a choreographer creating a delightful and thoughtful theatrical/street dance hybrid that utilized the raw and uneven technical abilities of the company's dancers while playing to their individual strengths. That winning formula continued in the program's second work, 2008's "Agwa" (water), which explored universal themes surrounding the importance of water.

Also set to a music collage by AS'N, the prop-driven work utilized rows of clear plastic cups, the dancers stacked, filled with water, tossed around and drank from. Merzouki's light-hearted choreography for it had the dancers, moving through, jumping over and executing tumbling runs in-between rows of cups, without spilling any.

Merzouki then offset those scenes of athletic dancer prowess with more playful sequences such as the work's ten dancers lying on the stage floor in a horizontal line across the front of the stage where a band of light illuminated only their hands and the cup of water each had. Using two fingers like tiny legs, their hands walked around each cup and then jumped atop it looking like miniature gymnasts and sending chuckles through the audience.

A smashing success, Compagnie Kfig's program entertained, moved and dazzled.

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