If you subscribe to the philosophy that “to dance is to live” and you don’t have tickets yet for the French hip-hop Compagnie Käfig, at ADF July 8 and 9 – you should call the box office now! This fabulous company opened its three-day run in Reynolds Theater to a packed house on the 7th, and their performance was the most exhilarating yet of the 2005 ADF season.

We have seen some interesting things, even some excellent things, so far this year, but we had not seen anything that so fully communicated the joy of movement as Compagnie Käfig’s Récital. Nor had we seen anything so sparkling with wit or bubbling with humor. The company’s good nature was perhaps even more surprising than their remarkable feats of motion. Hip-hop has become so allied in my mind with the angry, hostile qualities of rap music, and with behaviors ranging from incivility to murder, that I had almost skipped this performance. Compagnie Käfig made me ashamed of my assumptions, but shame was washed away in a moment by a flood of pleasure.

The company’s founder and artistic director is Mourad Merzouki, a Frenchman from Lyon, whose family came from the Kabyle region of Algeria. As a child, he studied martial and circus arts and, at 15, discovered the hip-hop world. Soon he was learning to convert the language of the street to that of the stage, and in 1996 he founded Compagnie Käfig to (as it says in the performance program) “develop his own artistic universe linked to his story and sensibility.” His universe and his sensibility are fertile and humane, eclectic and inclusive, both forward-thinking and admiring of the past, lively and life-affirming.

Récital was created in 1998 and revised this year. Set to rich and thrilling music by Franck Il Louise, it was choreographed and is danced under Yoann Tivoli’s very cool lighting effects by several company members: Merzouki, Karim Beddaoudia, Kader Belmoktar, Brahim Bouchelaghem, Amor Ghouila, David Pagliaroli, and Hafid Sour. This dance is rich in allusion and reference, drawing not only on hip-hop, circus, and martial arts styles but also on a myriad of others, from many cultures and art forms, in both the music and the movement. The elements meld and weave together in a way that is positively inspirational. With artists like this, maybe we will achieve world peace or, at least, a less-uneasy global village.

The basis of the work is the vocabulary of movements developed on the street, and the friendly competition among the dancers provokes them to ever-more-incredible feats. There’s the spinning, the flipping, the moonwalking, the inversions where arms become supportive and legs expressive, etc., but they are organized into large patterns and sequences, building to a blood-pumping climax. Whether they were moving like robots, whirling like fairground rides, twisting like supple snakes, or bounding like gorgeous tigers, the dancers were in perfect synchronization with the music, giving the pleasing feeling that neither would exist without the other. They are also attentive to each other – and to the audience. And they were grinning, having a good time! So were we all. Récital lasts less than one hour, but every second is so exciting that you feel completely satisfied at the end.