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Compagnie Käfig takes hip-hop from the streets of Rio to Columbia College

Water bottles, capoeira, and Looney Tunes inspire this Brazilian dance troupe.

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Columbia College continues its hip-hop crush this week with "B-Real: A Look Inside Urban Movements," the second installment of its B Hip-Hop series. Like "B-Fresh" last October, "B-Real" is serious about critiquing unbridled masculinity in hip-hop. Fortunately, it's also serious about B-boys and the streets they break on. Some of those streets are in Rio, where Lyon-born choreographer Mourad Merzouki recruited Compagnie Käfig, the Brazilian crew who headline the festival.

Merzouki is the rare choreographer who excels in many forms—a sweet deal in hip-hop. His multifaceted dances effortlessly combine breaking and popping and locking with older traditions like mime, circus, samba, and capoeira, a Brazilian dance with aerial flips and spinning butterfly kicks. He melds hip-hop techniques into a new form of contemporary theater.

Merzouki created the program Correria/Agwa—which translates to "running/water"—after observing the 11 dancers zooming from work to home to rehearsal and downing water bottle after water bottle.

The dancers in Agwa embody many forms of water. A lock-and-release motion precisely evokes the energy inside a typhoon, while a group of fidgeting dancers mimics the ecstatic atomic energy of water molecules. Clear plastic cups, gathered into stacks and balanced on the dancers' palms, are manipulated into funnels, cyclones, or tornadoes.

Correria leans away from myth towards Looney Tunes slapstick. The dominant image is three dancers on their backs, feet whirling. Twirling spindly wooden legs turn them into Pinocchios wishing to be real B-boys. Their wish is granted.

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