French-Algerian Dance Troupe Continues Exciting Moves for the Ojala/Inshallah Series
He says his dance comes from his dreams. French-Algerian choreographer Hervé Koubi’s most recent work, “What the Day Owes the Night” combines Sufi rhythms with cutting edge b-boy moves, classical ballet and capoeira in a work as fluid and full of grace as it is wildly athletic. Indeed, one reviewer at the Washington Post raves: “Koubi can convince his audience there is no such thing as physics.”
Saturday’s one-night only performance at the Olympia Theater is the next installment of MDC Living Arts Ojala/Inshallah series.
Koubi’s work comes out of a decade-long search to explore his past, as it intersects with his present. Born in France, for years Koubi was only vaguely curious about the origins of his name. “I thought perhaps my family had roots in Brittany,” he says. At home there was no Arabic language, no hint of anything Arabic. “My parents out-Frenched the French.” Koubi was in his mid-20s when finally, his questions prompted his father to show him a photo of an elderly man dressed in traditional Arab garb. This was a first glimpse of his great-grandfather.
He set off to Algeria. So began a process Koubi describes as nothing short of “a reorientation of my senses.” He spent days on end simply walking through the streets, “trying to feel them.” Koubi returned again and again. Already a renowned dancer and choreographer in France, Koubi decided to create a company of exclusively Algerian dancers. “Found brothers,” he calls them.
Never before had he encountered dancers with such a commitment to learn. “Everybody who auditioned had been break-dancing in the streets. They had no formal training in classical or modern dance and were hungry to learn.”
Out of the 250 persons who auditioned for Koubi, 249 were male. So he began to work for the first time with an all-male assembly. He found it so compelling that even now a decade later, his 12-member company, Cie, remains all-male.
Koubi finds inspiration of his choreography is the motion inherent in Arabic calligraphy. Likewise, he is moved by the searching inherent in Sufism and its whirling dervishes, a searching based precisely on motion.
Still, he is quick to point out that his work in not a tribute to Arabic culture but rather a tribute to both sides of the Mediterranean. “It’s in the middle because I am in the middle.” He finds parallels to his work, as well as points of departure for it in heavily shadowed and emotion-laden paintings of 19-century French master Orientalist Eugene Delacroix.
Likewise, the music Koubi troupe dances to comes from both sides of the Mediterranean. Bach mingles with Egyptian modernist composer Hamza El Din.
As Koubi is “in the middle” in his approach to his company’s art, so too he is “in the middle” in his efforts to advance dance not only for men but also for the women of North Africa. He is at work on a documentary to be released in 2019 entitled “The Nature of Women.” It will explore issues of gender in the region with an all-female assembly.
Koubi is well-aware of the importance of bringing this show to American audiences at this time. So far, there have been no protests. “Audiences have only applauded,” he says. He is being modest. There have been nothing but standing ovations.
Cie. Hervé Koubi: “What the Day Owes to the Night,” a French Algerian dance concert, Saturday at 8:00 p.m.; Olympia Theater, 174 E. Flagler St., Miami; tickets$55, $38, $25 plus fees at tinyurl.com/TixHerveKoubi; 305– 374-2444;mdclivearts.org and 305-237-3010