I sit enthralled, transfixed by the swirling dots and pulsating grid lines projected onto the dancers’ landscape. They glide, flip, and rotate, unencumbered by the mundane forces of gravity. Learning the mechanisms behind mind-boggling optical illusions may enhance enjoyment for some, but I prefer not to ruin the magic. During the entire 70-minute performance of Pixel, I stare, wide-eyed, in childlike wonder. I don’t seek to understand the technology, but instead allow myself to merely revel in the otherworldly digital effects.
The eleven dancers of the French Compagnie Käfig, led by Artistic Director Mourard Merzouki, play in a breathtaking landscape augmented by lines, points, and circles of projected light: a video game come to life. In collaboration with digital artists Claire Bardainne and Adrien Mondot, this multi-media production fuses hip-hop, circus arts, and projection to create a stunning and visceral work.
Much of the projection falls on a scrim. Dancing behind it produces a mysterious, obscuring effect. The performers glide seamlessly behind the translucent fabric, alternating between heel and toe. They traverse the floor as if riding a conveyor belt. At other times the dancers seem to pull the scenery with them, in a mind-bending optical trick.
Grid lines in a curvilinear perspective rise into gentle humps and mounds, the dancers hurl themselves from hillock to hillock in twisting flips, as likely to land on their hands as their feet. When the ground opens up a chasm and the dancers narrowly avoid plummeting into darkness. A compelling motif emerges, the dancers alternating between portrayals of acting upon the digital world and being affected by outside forces. The evening-length work presents a series of vignettes: struggling against raindrops with an umbrella, meeting and getting to know one another in the space, and playing out the theme of changing or being changed by the digital landscape.
In several unison sections, the dancers epitomize a liquid quality, punctuated by sharp stops and starts. Sometimes they perform these halts with their arms in gestures or the segmented hip-hop move known as waving, and sometimes they invert into b-boy stalls. Instead of allowing these impressive maneuvers to speak for themselves, the choreography serves an artistic intention: interacting with the space and playing out abstract storylines. Sound designer Armand Amar’s atmospheric electronic orchestral music furthers the choreographic fusion of classical and contemporary styles.
One section features a human-sized hula hoop, the circus apparatus known as the Cyr wheel. Marc Brillant, extensively trained in acrobatics, capoeira, and Parkour, cartwheels, spins, and gracefully oscillates from inside the hoop, his control exquisite and his strength immense. Just as comfortable in the floor choreography and as a soloist on the wheel, Brillant’s virtuosity and versatility are extraordinary.
Another standout in a company of immensely talented performers is the rollerblade dancer Ibrahima Mboup, known as Ibou Sene. Effortlessly skating in crescent patterns, Sene executes complex weight changes reminiscent of professional ice skating, including elongated jumps with outstretched limbs. In a series of amusing mimelike tricks, Sene travels backward while seeming to skate forward. He then creates momentum from nowhere, pushing with his arms against the empty air, launching himself ponderously in another direction.
Only the sections of contortion by Elodie Chan lost my interest, appearing too static and rigid after the visual feast of moving propulsion. Although impressive in her flexibility, Chan’s lack of dance training in comparison to the rest of the ambidextrous cast unfortunately prevented her transitions from pose to pose to morph her solo from a circus act into the dance fusion that the rest of Pixel demonstrated.
The evening’s climax arises when Sene and Brillant re-entered the space in a remarkable duet between the Cyr wheel and roller blades. Part movement conversation and part study in gyroscope physics, the two sail past one another in intersecting curves winding tighter and tighter, Sene ducking his head as he narrowly avoids the apex of Brillant’s wheel.
Presented for three nights only at Meany Center for the Performing Arts, Compagnie Käfig has certainly gained scores of American fans who will closely watch the troupe for more cutting-edge fusion, unparalleled facility, and expert artistry.
For more information on Compagnie Käfig, please visit HERE.