A major figure on the hip-hop scene since the early 1990s, Compagnie Käfig’s Artistic Director Mourad Merzouki works at the crossroads of many different disciplines: he adds circus, martial arts, fine arts, video and live music to his exploration of hip-hop dance. Without losing sight of the roots of hip-hop movement, of its social and geographical origins, this multidisciplinary approach opens new horizons and reveals original outlooks.
Since 1996, 31 creations have been performed in 700 cities and 65 countries. Compagnie Käfig has given more than 4,000 performances to over 2 million spectators. A hundred or so performances around the world rhythm the life of the company each year.
In 1994, recognition came with Athina , co-written with his first company, Accrorap.
Merzouki’s first fully independent work, Käfig , was performed in 1996 at Rencontres Urbaines de la Villette in Paris. On a deck surrounded by a net, a hip-hop dancer and a contemporary performer challenged each other in order to improve their dialogue. Käfig, which means “cage” in Arabic and German, became the name of the company, with a clear message: a refusal to be locked into a single style, a determination to extend hip-hop’s territory without losing sight of its history.
Maison de la Danse in Lyon, directed by Guy Darmet, supported the project and has been collaborating since then with most of Merzouki’s new productions. The same year, on his invitation, the choreographer led the parade “From Saint-Priest to Rio” for the Biennale de la Danse in Lyon.
In addition to his creations for Compagnie Käfig, Merzouki is regularly called upon by cultural institutions to create shows and to collaborate with other artists of all backgrounds, thus contributing to expanding his choreographic repertoire and promoting hip-hop dance and the company internationally. In 1997, he collaborated with Josette Baïz on Rendez-vous , a piece that brought together four contemporary dancers from Compagnie Place Blanche and four dancers from Compagnie Käfig.
In 1998, Récital - an unusual dialogue between six dancers, one musician and the image of a classical concert - launched Compagnie Käfig’s style. For this, Merzouki hung several violins over the stage and choreographed an unusual orchestra. An international tour through forty countries brought worldwide fame to Compagnie Käfig.
In 2000, he choreographed Cabaret Urbain for eight actors and four dancers, directed by Amar from Compagnie Korbo and Filip Forgeau.
That same year, teaming up with South African choreographer Jay Pather, Merzouki created Pas à Pas , at the Jomba festival in Durban - South Africa, an explosive mix of traditional Zulu dances and hip-hop.
In 2001, Dix Versions , created at Maison de la Danse in Lyon, outlined the hip-hop singularity of seven performers, including New-York dancer Klown. The piece was performed at the prestigious Jacob’s Pillow Festival in Berkshire, NY, USA. Dix Versions highlighted hip-hop writing and acrobatics with circles of lights isolating each dancer in his artistic originality, whether inspired by acrobatics or martial arts. The show, embedded in an off-beat plastic environment, with geometric objects moved around the set by the dancers in a lively game of forms and energies, confirmed Merzouki’s aesthetics.
In 2002, Merzouki choreographed one of La Fontaine’s famous fables, Le Chêne et le Roseau , aimed at a young audience, as part of the project led by La Petite Fabrique - Annie Sellem. The piece was played more than five hundred times worldwide.
For the Year of Algeria in France in 2003, he worked with Kader Attou to create Mekech Mouchkin – Y’a pas de problème with dancers from Algiers.
With Corps est graphique in 2004, Merzouki balanced the cast with an equal number of male and female artists. Mixing calligraphy, video and dance with a hint of humour, this performance redefined perceptions of seduction games.
In December 2004, the first Adapté , a recreation of excerpts from the repertoire, was presented for “Sidaction” at Les Subsistances in Lyon.
As for artistic collaborations, in July 2004 he participated in Marc Jolivet’s first feature film, Concours de Danse à Piriac. He created all the dance scenes, choreographing for actors of all generations, such as Ginette Garcin. In addition, Claudia Stavisky, Artistic Director of the Théâtre des Célestins in Lyon, invited Mourad Merzouki in 2004 to direct La Cuisine by Arnold Wesker, then L’Âge d’Or by Georges Feydeau in 2005. The following year he also collaborated on La Femme d’Avant, directed by Claudia Stavisky.
In 2005, the company was granted a residency at Espace des Arts in Chalon-sur-Saône. There, Merzouki created Terrain Vague in January 2006, a piece in a fantasized no-man’s-land that told his own story, looking into his childhood and personal background. In a fun, colourful space, open to all possibilities, the dancers, actors and circus performers challenge each other with audacity and virtuosity, in an eclectic show for a visual, sensory, choreographic and musical journey, bursting with energy.
From January 2006 to June 2009, Espace Albert Camus in Bron hosted Compagnie Käfig in residency. The theatre became the venue of the Karavel festival, created in 2007 under the leadership of Merzouki, with fifteen hip-hop companies setting up various initiatives in the city.
In 2007 he created the choreography of Les Quatre Saisons with the duo of figure skaters Nathalie Péchalat and Fabian Bourzat.
The same year, the play Mekech Mouchkin was recreated for Guyanese dancers in Cayenne, under the title Pa Gen Problem.
With Tricôté in 2008, Merzouki took the audience behind the scenes. Set to the music of the troupe’s faithful collaborator AS’N, this piece gave a look at the creative process of a new work, from auditions to performance.
Mourad Merzouki was “guest artist” at the 2008 Biennale de la Danse in Lyon. He presented Agwa , featuring Brazilian dancers. The piece is dedicated to water, an essential component of our body, a precious natural resource, vital even, which we must save and preserve, and a symbol of renewal.
For this edition, Merzouki also directed the Défilé, a major participative event of the Biennale de la Danse: Les Pointillés drew a connecting line between the eighteen cities participating in the parade, on the theme “Legends of the Future”. Mourad Merzouki has been the artistic director of the Bron city parade since 2006 and continues to do so to this day.
In 2008, he was also invited to collaborate on the creation Jojo au bord du monde, directed by Nino d’Introna, at the Théâtre Nouvelle Génération in Lyon.
In 2009, Mourad Merzouki directed the iD creation, with Jeannot Painchaud, a Cirque Éloize production whose world premiere took place in Incheon, Korea. An explosive encounter between urban dances and acrobatic acts.
At the same time, he created Des Chaussées for the dancers of the Junior Ballet of Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique et de Danse de Paris (CNSMDP).
In 2009, Pôle Pik, a new creation and choreographic development centre dedicated to hip-hop dance, opened its doors in Bron, in eastern Lyon. The creation of this place, which Mourad Merzouki has been running for almost ten years, made it possible to develop the diffusion of hip-hop dance by opening it up to other artistic languages. The project is defined around three axes: support for creation and choreographic diffusion; the transmission and training of amateurs and professionals, of which "Kampus" is the flagship project; the synergy of artistic teams and a local territory around hip-hop culture.
At the same time, Mourad Merzouki was appointed director of the Centre chorégraphique national (CCN) de Créteil et du Val-de-Marne. He developed an artistic project that uses “dance as a window on the world”: creation and diffusion of Käfig’s shows, support for independent groups and emerging companies, training and awareness of hip-hop dance, by creating original encounters that promote access to choreographic art are the missions he defends there since 2009.
Since then, a transmission work has been underway around the work Récital, which was performed more than four hundred times. That year, for the Croisements festival, the piece entered the Beijing Modern Dance Company’s repertoire and marked the first step in a series of transmissions around the world. These experiences show and demonstrate that hip-hop has reached an exemplary level of maturity and that the transmission of repertoire works, such as Récital, is a fundamental step for the future of dance.
In 2010, Merzouki created Correria , presented jointly with 2008’s Agwa, which takes the audience into a hectic, frenetic race, like the one that shapes our lives. The show goes around the world: Japan, Korea, Canada, United States, Europe, Australia, etc.
The same year, for the 14th Dance Biennial in Lyon, the choreographer presented Boxe Boxe , a work reconnecting Merzouki with his initial training in martial arts. This piece was also an opportunity to explore new outlooks through collaboration with the Debussy String Quartet.
In March 2011, under the prestigious ‘‘Nocturnes’’ at the Musée du Louvre, Compagnie Käfig presented a performed happening during the evening events called “Combat” (fight), with choreographies based on Boxe Boxe, echoing the sculptures of the museum.
In December 2011, a commission from the Centre chorégraphique Pôle Pik gave birth to Binôme, for a dancer and a circus artist, a piece written jointly with Kader Belmoktar.
Mourad Merzouki collaborated again in 2011 with Claudia Stavisky for the Théâtre des Célestins, with the choreography of two pieces, Le Dragon d’Or and Une nuit arabe, forming the Diptych Roland Schimmelpfennig.
In January 2012, Merzouki was invited by Olivier Meyer to the 20th edition of the Suresnes Cités Danse festival, alongside Kader Attou, Sébastien Lefrançois and José Montalvo. An anniversary evening celebrated excerpts from the choreographers’ creations, including Boxe Boxe.
The same year two new creations were added to the repertoire:
Yo Gee Ti : this Franco-Taiwanese piece, the result of a collaboration with the National Chiang Kai-Shek Cultural Centre, was presented in March 2012 in Taipei. The European premiere was held in June 2012 as part of the Montpellier Danse festival, for which Merzouki was named associate artist.
Käfig Brasil : this work premiered at the 2012 Montpellier Danse festival and marked the return of the Brazilian dancers from Correria Agwa. For this creation, Merzouki invited several French and Brazilian choreographers to collaborate in an atmosphere of shared artistic friendship.
In June 2012, Merzouki took over the rooms of the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon and renewed the experience of dialogue between dance and museum pieces with a choreographic stroll inspired by Yo Gee Ti.
In September 2012, he assumed alongside Dominique Hervieu the artistic co-direction of the Défilé of the Biennale de la Danse in Lyon. On this occasion, Récital was performed with forty dancers. Since then, this adaptation of Merzouki’s emblematic piece has been touring in several French cities as part of the "Kampus" project implemented by Pôle Pik.
2013 brought the first edition of the Kalypso festival in the Paris region, a showcase for contemporary hip-hop choreographic creation. The festival welcomes about twenty companies in several Parisian venues and brings together a large audience around numerous meetings, workshops, master-classes, battle, etc.
That year, Merzouki collaborated with Compagnie Norma Claire as part of the 9th Rencontres de danses métisses festival in French Guiana, for creation and transmission workshops for young traditional Amerindian dancers from the village of Awala-Yalimapo. He was also invited to collaborate on the night audiovisual show Lady Ô at the Parc du Futuroscope, directed by Hélène Richard and Jean-Michel Quesne in Poitiers.
In 2014, Merzouki created Pixel in collaboration with Adrien Mondot and Claire Bardainne. The show focuses on digital light projections that accompany dancers’ motions to strike a subtle balance between the real and the virtual world, between energy and poetry, and fiction and technical achievement, creating a show at the crossroads of arts.
He also created 7Steps , a piece for ten British, Finnish, Danish, Dutch and Belgian female dancers. Beyond this creation, the 7STEPS project contributes to a major reflection on the renewal of the forms and generations of hip-hop dance in Europe. It enables the CCN to be part of an institutional, associative and artistic network at a European level.
The same year, Merzouki collaborated on various audiovisual projects. He was notably involved in Eric Ellena’s documentary Entre Ciel et Terre and was artistic advisor for the TV film Ceux qui dansent sur la tête, directed by Magaly Richard-Serrano, which features several dance scenes inspired by Boxe Boxe and performed by eight dancers from the CCN - Compagnie Käfig. This TV film won the prize for best director and best male hope at the La Rochelle Fiction Festival.
In addition, in 2014 he was the guest of honour of the International Theatre Institute (ITI) for the International Dance Day, which takes place every year on April 29: on this occasion, excerpts from the company’s shows were presented and Mourad Merzouki delivered an international message at UNESCO, translated into more than twenty languages and broadcasted throughout the world.
New Récital transmission projects follow, the piece was transmitted to eight Indian dancers from the Danceworx Repertory Company during a residency in New Delhi in 2014 as part of the "Bonjour India" festival, then presented in New Delhi, Bombay and Pune. At the same time, the work was adapted for one hundred and fifty young people from Créteil (where the CCN is established), during workshops throughout the year, with a restitution at Jour de Fête, a participative event in the city of Créteil. In the fall of 2015, Récital was transmitted this time to twelve Colombian dancers and presented at Bienal Internacional de Danza de Cali. The piece toured in Bogota and Cartagena the same year, then again in 2017 in Bogota and Créteil as part of the Kalypso festival, and finally in 2018 in Costa Rica. In addition, a “Laban system” notation project was launched on the piece in 2015: Récital was the first ever hip-hop work to have a choreographic notation.
In December 2015, Merzouki signed the production of the Christmas show for L’Académie Fratellini with Wasteland, Terrain Vague , an adaptation of the piece Terrain Vague for the circular space of the circus tent, for seven apprentices from the academy and four professional dancers from CCN - Compagnie Käfig.
In 2016, the choreographer was invited to collaborate on several projects. The American-Brazilian artist Raphael Xavier asked him to assume the artistic direction of the project Raphstravaganza, The Kinetic Experience, working with famous street performers Bill Shannon aka Crutch Master, Tylon Moore and Matt Wilhelm. The final form was an outdoor performance presented at the City Hall Courtyard in Philadelphia in September 2016.
Another collaboration of 2016: the exhibition Corps Rebelles, for which Merzouki participated in the video tour through the history of contemporary dance, presented at the Musée de la civilisation in Quebec and at the Musée des confluences in Lyon. For the inauguration of the exhibition in Lyon, two dancers of the company took part in a strolling performance among the public.
In addition, in October 2016, for the 20th anniversary of the Fondation Culture et Diversité, the company presented an excerpt from Pixel at the Salle Pleyel, in the presence of the French President.
2016 marked above all the 20th anniversary of Compagnie Käfig. Several publications were released in the fall to explore the core of its history: the book Käfig, 20 ans de danse written by the researcher Agathe Dumont and published by Somogy Art Editions, the documentary Käfig, 20 ans de danse en partage directed by Frédérique Cantù, the web documentary Käfig, portrait d’une compagnie directed by Mohamed Athamna and co-produced by Numéridanse, an interactive timeline through the archives, as well as an exhibition and some videos, such as Reflexio directed with the studio Theoriz, a video clip in which Merzouki evolves solo in a virtual setting.
From November 2016 to January 2017, several events punctuated this anniversary, in three emblematic places that were cornerstones in the company’s history: the Maison des Arts in Créteil, the Maison de la Danse in Lyon and the Espace Albert Camus in Bron. These festivities were an opportunity to add two new pieces to the repertoire. A birthday creation was born: Cartes Blanches , designed to be a friendly meeting place for several dancers who have defined Käfig’s adventure. In 2017, Boxe Boxe was reintroduced in the colours of Brazil under the title Boxe Boxe Brasil : the Brazilian dancers stepped into the ring alongside the Debussy Quartet, offering a new fusion of bodies and strings, where the joyful energy of the Cariocas meets the frenetic rhythm of the violins. This revival project is emblematic of the Käfig signature, by crossing artistic universes and cultures, enriched over time by its dynamic opening to the world.
In January 2017, especially for the anniversary weekend of the Suresnes Cités Danse festival, Mourad Merzouki was invited by Farid Berki to participate in the show 25 ans de hip-hop as a guest, alongside other honoured invited dancers.
In September 2017, for the Rothschild Foundation’s 10th anniversary celebration, the company presented an excerpt from Boxe Boxe.
In 2018, Merzouki created three shows, including two external commissions. Folia , supported by Pôle en Scènes, opened the festival Les Nuits de Fourvière in Lyon, while Danser Casa , supported by État d’esprit productions and co-written with Kader Attou, made its French premiere a few weeks later at the Montpellier Danse festival. In the fall, it is Vertikal , the latest production by the CCN – Compagnie Käfig, premiered at the Biennale de la Danse in Lyon.
In 2019, the choreographer celebrates 10 years of dance in Créteil, the anniversary of his directorship of the National Choreographic Centre.
At a time marked by the health crisis in 2020, a small choreographic form was created, L’Adapté, as a vital impulse to connect again and to return to the essential gesture. It was presented at "Plaine d’artistes" at La Villette, at the Antirouille festival in Créteil and at the first edition of the Dialogues competition. The same year, Mourad Merzouki set in movement L’Atelier Cyrano by Jacques Weber with the Théâtre de l’Atelier in Paris, a re-creation of the cult play in an audiovisual version for an online audience.
In 2021, he got back to large-scale production with Zéphyr, inspired by the Vendée Globe and premiered at Vendéspace.
REPERTOIRE - 31 CREATIONS
1997 GÉNÉRATION HIP-HOP
1997 RENDEZ-VOUS (co-created with Compagnie Place Blanche – Josette Baïz)
2000 PAS A PAS
2000 CABARET URBAIN (co-created with Filip Forgeau and Amar)
2001 DIX VERSIONS
2002 LE CHÊNE ET LE ROSEAU
2003 MEKECH MOUCHKIN - Y’A PAS DE PROBLÈME
2003 LA TÂCHE
2003 CORPS EST GRAPHIQUE
2004 LA CUISINE (co-created with Claudia Stavisky – Théâtre des Célestins)
2005 L’AGE D’OR (co-created with Claudia Stavisky – Théâtre des Célestins)
2006 TERRAIN VAGUE
2007 LES QUATRE SAISONS (for the duo of figure skaters Nathalie Péchalat and Fabian Bourzat)
2009 ID (co-created with Cirque Éloize – Jeannot Painchaud)
2009 DES CHAUSSÉES
2010 CORRERIA AGWA
2010 BOXE BOXE
2012 YO GEE TI
2012 KÄFIG BRASIL
2016 CARTES BLANCHES
2017 BOXE BOXE BRASIL
2018 DANSER CASA (co-created with Kader Attou)