Dallas — Hervé Koubi, the 40-year-old French Algerian choreographic phenomenon, will be coming to Dallas for the first time this weekend for a two-day performance at Dallas City Performance Hall. On March 25 and March 26 at 8 p.m., the Compagnie Hervé Koubi will present Ce que le jour doit à la nuit (What the Day Owes to the Night), a combination of Capoeira, martial arts, urban, and contemporary dance (see video above).
Born in Cannes, France, Koubi always thought he was just like his French peers—a man with a French name from the South of France who wanted to make his parents proud. But one day, he asked his father where his ancestors came from, and he was met with an answer that changed the course of his life and set him on a path of self-discovery. “The day my father showed me a picture of an old man dressed in Arabic [clothing] and told me it was my great grandfather…it was a shock to me. I was not from France but from Algeria.” His current project, What the Day Owes to the Night started that day, and through it he has been able to explore, examine, and education himself, his dancers, and their audiences on the interconnectivity of cultures. What the Day Owes to the Night is inspired by Orientalist paintings, Islamic architecture, poetry, and music, and is danced by a cast of 12 men from Algeria and West Africa.
As Koubi prepares to arrive in Dallas, we spoke with him about how he first started dancing, his choreographic influences, and bringing his piece to Dallas.
TheaterJones: When did you first start dancing? Were you classically trained, or did you come from a street dance background like your dancers?
Hervé Koubi: I started my dance studies in Cannes with Michele and Anne-Marie Sanguin, Nathalie Crimi, Rosella Hightower at the International Dance School, and then with the Opéra de Marseille. In 1999, I joined the Centre Chorégraphique National de Nantes, in 2001 the Centre Chorégraphique National de Caen, and in 2003 and 2008 Compagnie Thor in Brussels. Unlike my dancers I had a very [traditional and classical] background, but the interest of the project lies in the mix between the technique of the dancers and my perception of dance and choreography.
When did you first become interested in choreography?
I had a good career as a dancer…I worked in several national companies in France, but I always preferred to have the position of author. I really like to exchange [dialogue] with the audience, to share my thoughts…and I decided to use dance as the medium to express myself. Choreography is like an open book for me…
How would you describe your style of choreography?
Dance is a very ephemeral form of art, however I am very attached to the notion of time, history, and common culture as the result of a mixing of the best of each culture. I think that we should be curious, open to the others, and…be in love. Dance is a declaration of love. To love, to share [thoughts] with dancers and then build together a beautiful object of dance…[one that is] full of meaning as if it was the witness of a constructed common thought.
Also, from what I’ve learned from my studies in pharmacy…“Nothing is created, nothing is lost, everything is transformed.” That is has influenced my choreography.
Is there a choreographer who has been a great inspiration for you?
I think we are all the result of our pathway. I am a part of all my teachers and choreographers I have worked with or I admired.
Your work in What the Day Owes to the Night is a fusion of Capoeira, martial arts, and urban and contemporary dance. Does this describe all of your choreography or just this specific piece? Where does your inspiration come from?
The fusion of Capoeira and hip-hop are just the result of the meeting with these dancers [for this project]. When I first went to Algiers in October 2009 for the first casting of this piece, I met 250 dancers, 249 male dancers and 1 girl. Most of the dancers I met had a very good [understanding] of dance, especially hip-hop (break dance) and Capoeira. But there are no dance schools in Algeria. Most of the dancers learned how to dance by themselves, thanks to video and YouTube. They train outside, in beaches, on courtyards, in the streets.
I went to Algeria to make light of my dark [unknown] history. I had to give life to my Orientalist dreams; I had to do it with dance. I had to do it with dancers from Algeria using their specific skills. The youth of Algeria is like that, full of power, full of dreams also. Our ways crossed and gave this unique dance project.
With What the Day Owes to the Night, you have created your first all-male dance work. What has that process been like?
With these 12 dancers, who I like to call my found brothers, there has been a choreographic alchemy I can’t explain. They respond exactly to what I expect and I love in dance. They are athletes, but I didn’t want these athletic skills to eclipse what is the more important for me in a choreographic proposal, the meaning.
Has the dance been presented in Africa? If so, is the response different than the reaction in Europe? Or the U.S.?
We presented this show in several countries of Africa…Morocco, Algeria, [and in] Palestine. The culture of contemporary dance is less developed in Morocco and Algeria than it is in Europe. There is still a strong power of traditional dance and most of the shows in Algeria are traditional ballet. However, these countries manage to develop the knowledge of contemporary dance, and we won the first prize at the contemporary dance festival in Algiers in 2010 and the honor prize in the Sareyyet Dance Festival In Ramallah. I think they liked it.
What do you want the audience to take away from your work? What do you hope they will feel while watching your choreography?
I want the audience to be free to feel what they want. I just would like the audience to be moved by what they see and also invite them to share my vision of a global culture, of a brotherhood beyond the frontiers and beliefs.
What do you hope to take away from performing in Dallas?
Dallas, seen from France, is a very emblematic city of the American success. I hope Dallas will enjoy [the work] as much as it was enjoyed in Houston where we performed last week.