STREET SKILL ON STAGE

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One moment in Hervé Koubi’s life changed everything he thought he knew about himself. His latest piece, Ce Que le Jour Doit à la Nuit (or What the Day Owes to the Night), takes inspiration from the moment the French choreographer found out his family was not from France, but from Algeria. Just prior to the show, in a strong French accent and broken English, Koubi described how his father showed him a picture of his great, great, grandfather wearing Arab garb. It was a shock, he said, to learn that his parents were from Africa.

Photo by Dan Aucante.

The word shock, and perhaps also awe, may be the most fitting descriptor for what La Compagnie Hervé Koubi, comprised of one Burkina Faso and nine French-Algerian male street dancers, accomplished this past weekend in its first performance on a Seattle stage. Koubi, in his introduction to the piece, emphatically reminded us that his company was made up of “street dancers… they used to dance in the streets.” It seems that only these street dancers, who have many years of experience break dancing, would have the skills necessary to perform Koubi’s eclectic choreographic mix of capoeira, b-boying, and contemporary dance. During large scale tumbling passes, the dancers seemed to swell in a massive organism of moving, churning parts. The dancers displayed impressive control and stamina even while spinning vigorously on their heads or flying into back handsprings. Perhaps more impressive than the tumbling itself was the acrobatic prowess displayed by the dancers as they slowly, masterfully untangled themselves from the handstands and partnered lifts.

Photo by Sylvain Marchou Chaine.

Ce Que le Jour Doit à la Nuit explored a more humanistic side as well. Dark, moody lighting contrasted with the bright, white sirwals worn by the dancers in a way that illustrated Koubi’s inner turmoil as he contended with his Algerian culture identity. The music, too, interweaved the influence of Europe and Africa; with the sounds of a Bach concerto, African drumming, and the light strumming of an oud. Near the end of the piece, these different influences converged— Bach’s liturgical music grew louder and louder, until it suddenly began to disintegrate and meld with the loud thumping of drums. The dancers relentlessly spun on their heads, as if to signify the breakneck chaos of the two cultures coinciding. Then they suddenly collapsed. Slowly, they woke up from their stupor, covering one another by the white fabric of their skirts in an act of burial or maybe, baptism.

Photo by Nathalie Sternalski.

As the lights dimmed for the curtain, one dancer recited an Arabic poem. For a few moments, we saw nothing; we only heard the sound of this poem, which we later found out, repeated the phrase “I went there.” Throughout Ce Que le Jour Doit à la Nuit, Koubi had the courage to go there—to connect with his history—and in doing so, he and his company created a stunning, elaborate mosaic of sound and movement.