What happens when you take five French hip-hop artists, five Taiwanese dancers, a Taiwanese fashion designer who has made an international name for himself with sculptural knits and place them in the hands of French hip-hop choreographer Mourad Merzouki for several weeks? That’s been the question on dance lovers’ minds recently, and tonight they will learn the answer as YogeeTi opens at the National Theater for a three-show run.
YogeeTi was created especially for the National Theater Concert Hall’s annual Taiwan International Festival of the Arts. The NTCH invited Mourad Merzouki, the 39-year-old Lyon-born founder of the Kafig Company, to see an exhibition of Johan Ku’s (古又文) work to see if he might like to collaborate with him.
This project has been a new experience for both Merzouki and Ku, and not just cross-culturally. Neither had tried anything close to such an experiment before, and the working period — two months — was half the time Merzouki usually takes to create a new work. After the two met in Taipei late last year and Merzouki auditioned Taiwanese dancers for the project, he then returned home to France to work, while Ku went to work in Taipei — in between creating for his ready-to-wear and accessories labels.
While the two men come from vastly different backgrounds and professions, they both start a new project from the same place, Merzouki said after a press conference at the National Theater on Wednesday. They start with nothing; then they take their material — yarn for Ku and movement for Merzouki — and shape it, twist it and mold it into a creation, he said. That nothingness gave them a basis for collaboration. But first Merzouki had to find some Taiwanese dancers. Auditions were held for both hip-hop and modern dancers.
When: Tonight and tomorrow at 7:30pm and Sunday at 2:30pm
Where: National Theater, 21-1 Zhongshan S Rd, Taipei City (台北市中山南路21-1號)
Admission: Tickets are NT$500 to NT$2,000, available at NTCH box offices and 7-Eleven’s iBon kiosks and online at www.artsticket.com.tw. The top seats for tonight’s performance are sold out
“I was open to every kind of dancer. I didn’t want only hip-hop, or only contemporary,” he said. “Taiwan has very, very good hip-hop dancers with very good technique, but they lack experience working with a choreographer. Since we don’t have much time for this, I finally chose contemporary dancers because they have the experience working with a choreographer, working on stage.”
Time was not the only constraint the pair faced.
“This is the first time for Johan Ku to work with a choreographer. Usually he just works with models. I asked him to change something, but the distance between Taiwan and France and the time, he couldn’t do it, so I had to find a way to work with [his costumes and set pieces], to create a dialogue between fashion and dance,” Merzouki said.
“When I work with these costumes, I must change the movement, to adapt. The function for me is the progression in my work because I try to mix new dialogue, and find a new direction for hip-hop. Hip-hop is a young dance; I try to transport it to the stage, to make it for young people, for old people. I want hip-hop to take risks,” he said.
Merzouki said he is trying to fight stereotypes that both a theater audience and hip-hop artists might have.
“They [the public] think it is only for the street, only for the young. But we must try new things or hip-hop will not continue. It’s different for the street and the stage. On the stage there is a story,” he said.
Merzouki may be classified as a hip-hop choreographer, but he has widened his oeuvre to include modern dance, the Brazilian martial art capoeira, juggling, samba and whatever else has captured his lightening-quick mind. This is largely due to his own background — a boyhood filled with karate and circus lessons. Discovering hip-hop at age 15 led him into the world of dance. In 1996, aged 23, he created his own company, Kafig. The name was taken from the first piece he created for the company.