When Mourad Merzouki formed Compagnie Käfig back in 1996, his company’s name revealed a firm refusal to conform to any one-dance genre (“käfig” means “cage” in Arabic and German). With his latest creation, Pixel, Merzouki has added interactive technology to his growing list of styles, which has also included hip-hop, martial arts, capoeira, circus arts, and contemporary dance. What makes his work undeniably effective is an adept ability to weave each seemingly contrasting genre into a wave of movement so cohesive one is apt to find themselves lulled into a durational trance where reality and invention are nearly indistinguishable.
For the company’s Santa Barbara debut, Merzouki framed the Granada Theater’s stage with lights, lasers, and digital projections as 11 dancers sliced and flexed their way around an interactive virtual world. Echoes of liquid movement rippled from one dancer over to another, shape-shifting from contemporary dance to acro-sport to hip-hop in weightless transition. Delicate introductions roared into pulsating, flight-bound movement (Marc Brillant lived up to his name with a Cyr wheel performance utterly pure in form and execution, inciting a chorus of primordial howls from the audience). Even a discipline as glaringly distinctive as contortion (the company’s Elodie Chan is among the best) found synchronicity in a passionate pas de deux, casually transforming into pedestrian movement that was interspersed throughout the program.
If Merzouki set out to reflect the ominous peril of a society drowning in its own computer dependence, he absolutely failed. In Pixel, technology has never looked more optimistic — or utterly beautiful.