REVIEW: Brazilian dancers, Merzouki work wows

Feb. 26, 2014 @ 03:43 PM

Eleven Brazilian dancers and work by French choreographer Mourad Merzouki wowed a packed Memorial Hall audience Tuesday in a program that showcased a passion for dancing and dance-making. Dancers display great heart, energy, strength and flexibility while Merzouki exhibits his limber imagination and creativity.
This choreographer’s early circus training continues to serve him well, especially in the sense of putting on a show that elicits joy and delight. His work is playful, comic, whimsical. He also creates some dance magic when he figures out how to turn ordinary, clear plastic cups into rain and make dancers appear to have two extra legs.
In collaboration with the dancers, Merzouki creates work that draws from hip-hop, street dance, capoiera (Brailian martial arts), carnival, ritual and the circus to create something new.
“Correria” (Portugese for “water) features lots of running and, oh, so much more. Dancers bicycle legs in midair supported by partners who lift and hold them above the stage floor.  A dancer, walking on his knees, seems driven by his long, wind-milling arms. While performing a handstand, a dancer appears to glide across the stage. The magical atmosphere intensifies as a dancer runs alone in a spotlight then is joined by a film of another dancer running along a sidewalk. Only in the film, the dancer seems to have multiple legs that enable him to run so fast the legs blur.  Then a group of dancers onstage create the same illusion with the help of extra pairs of legs (shoes attached to sticks). Later, dancers use these legs to make counter-rhythms and stamp in unison with their real legs.
“Agwa” (“Water”) is sheer delight. Somehow, Merzouki took plastic cups and turned them into scenic elements as essential to this dance as water is to life itself.
Lighting gives the cups an iridescence and when set in motion by dancers these cups resemble rivulets of glistening water. Clear plastic, hooded raincoats, donned by dancers, suggest rain as light bounces off the coats when dancers move. The raincoats also bring to mind carnival costumes that transform the wearer’s identity.
This dance begins with a single dancer surrounded by stacks of cups. Other dancers, rushing the stage, send these cups flying and the lone dancer proclaims, “We must redo everything.” But he does nothing except to divert our attention, as magicians do. He dances in a spotlight, the rest of the stage in darkness. At one point, he undulates his abdomen as though swishing the water inside – a reminder that water comprises up to 75 percent of the human body. When the lights come up, we see the cups arranged in rows.
Dancers move among these cups and one even backflips over the water-filled cups without knocking any over. Dancers pour water out of cups, stack the cups and manipulate the stacks that sometimes look like vertical Slinkys. In a move only someone skilled in the martial art of capoeira could pull off, a dancer stands on one hand, his feet twisting high above him. Another dancer, in a headstand, without the support of his hands, turns himself into a spinning top. When dancers finally stand still and drink water from the cups, we can hear their murmurs of satisfaction at having their thirst quenched.
The celebration continues as dancers come back onstage for an exuberant encore that has the audience, on its feet, not only clapping but clapping in rhythm with dancers’ movements.