Boxe Boxe

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Cultural Centre, Grand Theatre May 12-14

French hip hop troupe brings classical music into the boxing ring

No heavyweight champ would ever associate himself with a pink tutu, but Mourad Merzouki, a boxer himself, doesn’t hesitate in claiming his belief that “a boxer is a dancer.” You have to believe him too. As the choreographer and founder of hip hop dance troupe Compangnie Käfig, the French-Algerian boasts a background in boxing and martial arts, and he even trained in a circus as a child. But it was Merzouki’s lifelong obsession with hip hop that formed the basis of his fearless, groundbreaking choreography which continues to push the envelope by merging different physical disciplines, such as Brazilian capoeira and circus acrobatics for the critically-acclaimed Agwa, and now martial arts and hip hop for his newest experiment, Boxe Boxe.

But still, boxing is dancing? Merzouki explains the method in his madness: “When I practise boxing, it’s exactly the same feeling when I dance. There’s so much similarity – in rhythm, the rapport of the body, in the movement.” Thus, he capitalises on the parallels between two by experimenting with intricate footwork, whilst accentuating what he calls “the beauty of movement” with flowing fabrics or skin-tight boxing gear, and bringing all this into sharp relief with the creative use of lighting. The poetic thread running through the spectacle is core to
his main purpose. “I want it so that audiences don’t just see two guys fighting. I like when the audience see poetic things, and cultivate emotion.”

However, Merzouki insists there is no particular message to Boxe Boxe, merely an autobiography of sorts. “I wanted to do the show with boxing and dance because it’s my story,” says Merzouki. Determined to give stereotypical hip hop music the left hook however, Merzouki deliberately juxtaposed the elegant, flowing notes of Ravel, Gorecki and Schubert with martial arts and gritty street dancing. “I really love the confrontation between different worlds,” he insists, lapsing excitedly into French. “I want the audience to be surprised.” Yet the string quartet he brought on stage to challenge audiences was a surprise for himself too, having never worked with classical music, let alone having musicians on the stage. The result is a study of fragility, rivalry, and competitiveness that at once highly energetic yet nuanced, and uniquely Compangnie Käfig.

For his next project, Merzouki is thinking of fusing traditional Taiwanese dance with his signature street style. Even though he’s unsure what the collaboration will bring, we can rest assured that it’s going to pack a punch.

Tina Leung

Tickets: 2734 9009; www.urbtix.hk.

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