WHEN the curtain goes up on a hip hop dance show, there are certain things you expect to see and hear. A string quartet isn’t usually one of them.
Compagnie KÄfig: Boxe Boxe
Edinburgh Festival Theatre
Star rating: * * * *
Messing with our expectations, however, is something Compagnie Käfig’s artistic director, Mourad Merzouki excels at – and the music is just the start. Sitting on ornate wrought iron chairs, reminiscent of the gates from a palatial garden, the four musicians wheel themselves across the chequerboard-style stage.
Creating a glorious sound as they glide, they also look slightly comical, which sets the scene perfectly for what is to come – a mix of humour, strength and undeniable beauty.
Boxing and dance aren’t known for their commonality of audience, which perhaps explains why a show about pugilism struggled to sell tickets. Had those dance fans, who turn out in their droves for narrative ballet, been aware of the grace and precision Merzouki has imbued BOXE BOXE with, they’d be kicking themselves for missing it.
Thankfully, those who did attend were appreciatively loud – and rightly so. Merzouki’s choreography, a subtle fusion of hip hop and contemporary dance, never ceases to entertain, yet refuses to dumb down.
A former boxer, Merzouki knows his way around the sport – and, by bringing in a boxing coach to work with his dancers, has given BOXE BOXE a real sense of authenticity. Light on their feet as they negotiate the space between them and their sparring partners, the dancers dodge and weave at speed.
Punchbags, swing balls and boxing gloves are all put to good use, sometimes with drama and pathos, at other times with light-hearted wit. The one constant is the passion each dancer injects into his or her moves.
With only one female amongst the eight dancers, BOXE BOXE could easily have turned into a testosterone-charged hour of aggression – yet nothing could be further from the truth. Masculinity, athletic prowess and muscular power may not be in short supply, but all of it is channelled through an artistic lens.
Each aspect of boxing is worked through – from physical training and psychological preparation, to squaring up to an opponent and being physically drained afterwards – all of which can be equally applied to breakdancing.
By setting his choreography to classical music, Merzouki very cleverly illustrates that there is more to hip hop – and boxing – than meets the eye, and that strength and beauty are by no means mutually exclusive.
Seen on 01.04.14