Choreographer Mourad Merzouki has spent his career crushing cliches about hip-hop; it's more than impressive tricks performed on the fly in the streets of urban neighborhoods.
"It's really a dance that can be like any other dance," said the French-born artist, speaking with the aide of a translator. It can be elevated to the stage.
In 1996, he founded the dance troupe Compagnie Kafig and has toured the world ever since combatting stereotypes of the art form. On Saturday, he and a group of young men from Brazil will bring a pair of hip-hop-grounded works, "Agwa" and "Correria," to Byham Theater as part of the Pittsburgh Dance Council's 2013-14 season.
Mr. Merzouki's work is highly athletic, inspired by his background in circus skills and martial arts. He discovered hip-hop by chance, he said.
"I saw that all the young from the suburbs and neighborhoods were dancing in the streets, and as I was an acrobat I was inspired by this new way of dancing and mixing acrobats," he said. "I wanted to be part of the trend but it became much bigger than a trend."
Historically, hip-hop has been more about putting on a show that was often improvised, and many still consider it to be strictly part of street dance culture. Mr. Merzouki's work strives to shift this mentality with set choreography that's rooted in a theme. His pieces also are shaped by movement vocabularies from other dance genres, such as contemporary, and varied soundscapes, including classical music.
"It's very diverse," he said. "Not the music you would expect when watching a hip-hop dance show."
The people he meets during his global travels also inform his choreography. In 2006, he was introduced to 11 young men from the favelas of Brazil who had been informally schooled in hip-hop on the streets. They shared their stories and collaborated on a piece called "Agwa," meaning "water." Through high-energy choreography, acrobatics and water-centric props, the show dives into the life-sustaining resource.
"I really wanted to create something with more universal themes that were really meaningful to the dancers but also to the audience," Mr. Merzouki said.
Typically Mr. Merzouki works with different dancers for his projects, but based on the success of "Agwa" he reunited with the ensemble of Brazilian men to stage "Correria," which translates to running or rushing. He hopes the visuals and the topics can treat audiences both fresh to and fluent in dance.
"I really want to be able to convince and talk to an audience that would be new to hip-hop shows," he said.