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PUTNEY — International artists known for their dancing and beatboxing skills are sharing those art forms with local audiences this week.

Amirah Sackett is Next Stage’s 2022 Artist in Residence. She and Ahmed Zaghbouni, also known as MR MiC, “join forces to bring a fun and energetic performance titled ‘BeatBox MEETS Popping,’” according to Next Stage’s website.

Sackett’s hip-hop dancing borrows style from the 1990s and utilizes “popping.”

“Popping is kind of a percussive dance in a way,” she said, citing moves by Michael Jackson as an example. “It’s using the body as an instrument to interpret the music. And it’s a lot of different isolations and muscle control. So the actual pop is a contraction of the muscles. And that makes this kind of jerk in the body.”

Zaghbouni’s uncle was a DJ who introduced him to hip-hop as a child. He also was the type of kid who liked to imitate all kinds of sounds, making it natural for him to attempt to beatbox.

“I love the art form,” he said, crediting Doug E. Fresh with being its godfather. “I was really fascinated by the whole thing.”

As part of his performance, Zaghbouni uses a loop station to layer his beats with different sounds.

The show is part of Next Stage’s Bandwagon Summer Series and will be hosted at New England Center for Circus Arts at 6 p.m. Saturday. Tickets cost $20 in advance, $25 at the door and are free for children younger than 12. More information can be found at nextstagearts.org/event/amirah-sackett.

Sacket and Zaghbouni also will perform at 8 p.m. Friday at The Drake in Amherst, Mass. Information can be found at laudable.productions/events/ amirahsackett-mrmic. Tickets cost $18 and $25 at the door, and $12 with a student ID.

Sackett is a hip-hop dancer, choreographer and educator based in Chicago.

“As a proud Muslim American, she combines Islamic themes with her dance to share the universal beauty of her faith with audiences of different faith backgrounds to promote unity and understanding,” Next Stage said.

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Zaghbouni is an international beatboxer and filmmaker from Tunisia.

“His performance always entertains the audience with disbelief by the sounds he creates only using his mouth and voice as an instrument,” Next Stage said. “He is proud of his Muslim heritage and the Sufi faith traditions native to his home of Tunisia.”

Both artists are “dedicated to preserving and sharing hip-hop culture with the next generation and audiences around the world, as well as being examples of using art for social change,” Next Stage said.

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A couple of years ago, Sackett came to Vermont for a residency at Sandglass Theater, which specializes in puppetry and is right next to Next Stage in Putney. She was later contacted by Keith Marks, executive director at Next Stage, and she told him about her new work with Zaghbouni. They planned a residency.

Sackett and Zaghbouni have participated in residencies together before. They met while doing another show in Algeria — Sackett was dancing and Zaghbouni was filming — and began making videos of their collaborations.

“We had a lot of downtime,” Sackett said.

When the pandemic hit, the two artists had been involved in “Footsteps in the Dark” at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and they had even more free time with the shutdown. They continued exploring ideas combining their skills.

They livestreamed a weekly show to bring joy to friends and family, and it brought in a lot of viewers via the MR MiC YouTube channel and social media.

“We started really building a format for a good show and a lot of pieces,” Sackett said.

Last year, they began to hit stages with live performances. They believe they make a great artistic combination.

On Monday, the pair went to the Brattleboro School of Dance. They hosted a children’s workshop and a masterclass in hip hop for adults.

On Tuesday, they held a workshop at Next Stage. They also participated in a question-and-answer panel at Brooks Memorial Library, a workshop at the Boys & Girls Club of Brattleboro and private social events.

One of their main goals is to get children out of their comfort zone, Zaghbouni said. They teach techniques but also allow for freestyling.

“Hip-hop’s a community-based culture,” Sackett said, describing how the practice of making a circle gives each person a chance to participate. “Kids are really fun, because they have so much creativity. So I feel like you can give them a germ of an idea and they can create a whole story with it.”

The artists aim to show beatboxing and dance as a means of expression. Part of their residency also is about relaxing and drawing in some new inspiration.

“It’s so refreshing,” said Zaghbouni, who found time Monday night to record a new piece in a home where the artists are staying for the week. “It came out naturally, literally, it was like a really good track.”

Sackett said she loves Vermont.

“The people are just so friendly and open,” she said. “I always feel everywhere I go, I’ve been welcomed. And I think that there’s just a real focus on the arts here, it seems, and education.”

The artists said they are enjoying collaborating with Next Stage for the residency.


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