Dallas — The French-based Cie Hervé Koubi recruited dancers from Facebook, whose “training” came entirely from YouTube. Not too promising?
But what transpired on March 25 at the Dallas City Performance Hall was an unforgettable performance of Ce que le jour doit à la nuit (What the day owes to the night). Having discovered his own roots in Algeria, the French choreographer and artistic director Hervé Koubi brought together 12 male dancers—11 from Algeria, one from Burkina Faso—who had no formal training. They lived in countries where there are no dance studios or outlets for professional dancers.
What we saw in this concert presented by TITAS was a mix of break dancing, gymnastics, Whirling Dervish, b-boying, modern dance and who knows what else. Ce que le jour had a trancelike hold on the audience: glacially slow at times, whirlwind fast at other times, and always mesmerizing. While they could be as graceful as ballet dancers, their walks—heavy, heads forward—bore no resemblance to ballet.
But once in motion, they were devilishly fast, spinning on their heads, legs shooting out in all directions, or diving headlong and rebounding. They erupted into airborne trajectory, flying into one another’s arms and then flipping up to stand on someone’s shoulders. Perched on high, a man would be be carried the length of the stage, suggesting something like a triumphant Roman soldier riding a chariot.
The soldier image fit: these were robust, well-muscled, and disciplined men, able to go solo but alert to what everyone else was doing. When they cartwheeled in different directions and at different speeds, it seemed that the space they took over was one giant white inferno, sparks flying everywhere. There were infinite variations of spins, dives, flips and pivots, often starting out solo and then picked up by another and another and another, until the entire stage was exploding.
The mood was often contemplative, partly because the men never looked toward the audience and often stood with backs to us, and partly because of the long pauses. Bare-chested, they wore white pants, slit skirts and aprons, the better for skirts and aprons to flair out as they spun. The lighting captured the mood, dim at first and at the end, with shafts of light capturing figures or pinpoints of light on the ground.
Just as the change in light affected the mood, so did the mix of traditional Sufi music, opera and Bach, each flowing seamlessly.
If there was one disappointment, it was the audience. Considering the almost religious gravity of the work, it was dismaying that some of the audience felt obliged to clap in the middle of a sequence, and worse—much worse—burst into applause before the work ended. It ended quietly: men barely moving, the light growing more and more dim and the music ceasing. If the audience really wanted to show their appreciation, they would have embraced the silence.
» Margaret Putnam has been writing about dance since 1980, with works published by D Magazine, The Dallas Observer, The Dallas Times Herald, The Dallas Morning News, The New York Times, Playbill, Stagebill, Pointe Magazine and Dance Magazine.