Mourad Merzouki, 50, has the same appearance as the dances that he performs: friendly and accessible. The Lyon-born choreographer also has a somewhat didactic way of speaking — an element of his character that matches perfectly with his ability to transmit the style of dance that he’s been developing for 30 years.
In choreographic centers such as Créteil, in the southeastern suburbs of Paris — which he directed between 2009 and 2023 — or by leading festivals such as Karavel and Kalypso, Merzouki’s dance company, Käfig, became one of the first in the world to do hip hop dance shows, starting in 1996. He considers himself to be a pioneer in helping usher the genre from the streets to the stage, merging the playful with the professional.
“When I started bringing hip hop dance to the stage, many people said that it wasn’t going to last, that it was just a fad. But it wasn’t. [Breakdancing] has been establishing itself on the scene… and it’s grown in two compatible directions: in the theater — with choreographies that go [deeper] — it questions things and has an artistic commitment. And, on the street — where it was born — the break dance battles continue to unfold.”
Merzouki is also the creator of the official dance of the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games in Paris 2024: The Dance of the Games. This piece is intended to be participatory and viral. In fact, the creator is in Madrid at the moment, training teachers in this choreography and doing exhibitions.
“It’s about everyone who wants to dance The Dance of the Games,” he explains, during his interview with EL PAÍS. “With a very clear structure — based on choreography and improvisation (the pillars of breakdancing today) — the idea is to create community and communicate through [dance] anywhere in the world.”
To do this, there are a couple of tutorials available on YouTube (at a beginner and an advanced level) that can help viewers learn the steps. Whoever dares to record themselves dancing and send it in will be able to participate in a contest. The best proposals will be chosen to participate physically in Paris, on a date yet to be specified, between May and June.
It seems entirely appropriate that a renowned hip hop dance choreographer is in charge of the opening of the Paris 2024 games, considering that — for the first time — breakdancing will be recognized as a category of sport.
“There’s been a lot of debate about this in France,” he notes. “Some people didn’t agree to consider it as such, because it’s an art. Others, myself included, believe that it’s good news, because arts and sports aren’t incompatible. The Olympics are going to [put the spotlight] on the ‘battles,’ or the competitive aspect of breakdancing.”
Invited by the French Institute of Madrid to give these trainings, Merzouki will also present Phénix, his work that includes four dancers (two from contemporary dance and two from the hip hop genre) and a musical performer. In the piece, the viola da gamba is played live.
“It’s a very old instrument that will dialogue with electronic music, just as I would like the world to dialogue in general. Hip hop dance has two [elements]: creation and social issues,” he explains. The piece, which he premiered in 2022, turns to the artistic coexistence that runs through Merzouki’s discourse. In addition to being trained in circus and martial arts, he’s passionate about the mixture of dance and new technologies.
“I created this piece as soon as the pandemic ended. It was the first time I worked without scenery, in a very simple way. It’s a work that seeks the generosity of dance and music, taking place in the surprise of the encounter.”
Merzouki, who holds a Medal of Honor from the City of Lyon and is a member of the committee to support choreographic art at the French Ministry of Culture, recognizes the accessibility of dance as one of his artistic creeds… both in terms of practicing it and enjoying it.
“I chose this profession to create links of all kinds, also between countries. I want to share [my art] with all types of audiences and give an image of coexistence and respect, through a dance that was born on the streets of ordinary neighborhoods.”
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