What do you get when you put a young French pharmacist and an old faded faded photograph together? In this case, an evening-length work called What The Day Owes The Night, which unleashed more than an hour of reality-defying, non-stop action performed by 12 bare-chested, muscular men.
Intense, personal and physical, Compagnie Hervé Koubi (after finally resolving some visa issues) made a noteworthy appearance at the intimate Rinker Playhouse this past Tuesday night (two weeks later than originally scheduled).The collective of 11 Algerian dancers and one dancer from Burkina Faso delivered a power-packed performance.
Dressed in white baggy pants with a split skirt attached to them, the men started in a heap — barely visible on center stage — to separate ever so slowly. The smoky haze and lighting set an evocative mood as, one by one, they started to catapult themselves into space, creating a free-form blur of energy. The movement was predominantly reminiscent of the moves in capoeira, the Brazilian martial art form, mixed with urban and contemporary dance moves.
Although the movement vocabulary was fairly limited, it was nonetheless exciting to see this amazing battery of flips, headstands and handstands, slides, tosses and spins which, at times, paused to register a diffused image here and there.
The work takes its title from a 2008 novel about a conflicted young Algerian during the country’s war for independence and was written by an Algerian army officer — Mohammed Moulessehoul — under the pen name of Yasmina Khadra.
The soft-spoken, French-born choreographer Hervé Koubi appeared before the show to share the story of how a faded family photograph re-shaped his life and formed his journey as an artist. While studying to be a pharmacist in Cannes, Koubi learned from his father that the photo was his stoic Algerian grandfather whom he never knew, and who only spoke Arabic.
Taken back to learn that his roots were not French as he had always thought, Koubi made the decision to reconnect with his Algerian heritage. So in 2009, he held an audition in Algeria, the country of his family’s origin. Not sure that anyone would show up as there were no organized dance schools, Koubi was very surprised when 250 male street dancers showed up. He calls his company dancers “his brothers” as they have shared this artistic journey together.
In What The Day Owes The Night, he doesn’t tell the story of the book and he doesn’t tell his story either. The images are subtle and fleeting, interspersed with high-flying gymnastic moves that crescendo to an eclectic score that included Bach’s St. John Passion, a snippet of Vivaldi, some traditional Sufi music and a piece by Nubian composer Hamza El Din played by the Kronos Quartet.
At one point, a man ran up a hill of men’s backs to stand high above the others. The men moved him quickly to the other side as he did a “free fall” trusting that he would be caught which he was but just within an inch of hitting the floor.
Several times men were vaulted high into the air from a bed of arms and miraculously hung horizontally in the air before they rapidly dropped earthward.
These extreme trust exercises and repeated gestures of reaching an arm upwards and standing with their glistening and chiseled backs — a sea of skin tones — to the audience conveyed an immutable sense of brotherhood in this collective of men.
Through the simplest of means, on a bare stage with no sets and no props to aid them, What The Day Owes The Night progressed through various stages of day and night — in a casbah, in an alley. In one section, 30 or more downward shafts of lights make circles on the floor, much like the sun shining through the delicate filigree of Islamic architecture as the men partnered each other in series of resurrections.
It was impressive how these 12 men were able to contain their explosions of energy on the little Rinker stage without making it look too cramped or too small. Building to a sensational series of astonishing spins on heads and hands, the Compagnie Hervé Koubi, which is based in Cannes, France, was impressive.
Breaking away from the climatic ending, one lone man spoke to close the program reciting a poem in Arabic that Koubi wrote, repeating the line “I went there.”