Hervé Koubi makes it work under pressure 

The Right Chemistry

click to enlarge compagnie_herve_koubi_cre_dit_photo_-_david_vinco.jpg

David Vinco

"In nature, nothing is created, nothing is lost, everything is transformed," said the famous 18th century French chemist Antoine Lavoisier. Like Lavoisier, Hervé Koubi is also a French chemist — a doctorate level pharmacist in fact — but the alchemy he prefers is transforming bodies through astonishing movement, not medicine, and transfixing audiences while he's at it.

When Compagnie Hervé Koubi makes their Spoleto debut for the festival's opening night performance at the Gaillard, you'll get a taste of that alchemy pretty fast. The 40-year-old choreographer boldly borrows and blends elements from contemporary dance and street dance forms including capoeira, breakdancing, and martial arts to jaw-dropping effect. Given this fusion, Koubi would say nothing is created and nothing is lost, but everything is indeed transformed. Much like the way day morphs into night, or night into day, or the way, perhaps, an unexpected revelation can shake your understanding of the world.

Such a revelation is where the piece, What the Day Owes to the Night, stems from. "When I was 25, I learned for the first time that my father was from Algeria," says Koubi, who was born and raised in Cannes, France, and studied dance there with Michele and Anne-Marie Sanguin and Nathalie Crimi, and later at the Opéra de Marseille before studying choreography in Nantes and Brussels. Curious about his mysterious roots, Koubi went to Algeria "to make light of my dark, or unknown, history. I had to give life to my orientalist dreams, and I had to do it with dance."

In Northern Africa, he discovered young dancers "full of power and full of dreams also." There is no formal dance school in Algeria, so these dancers are self-taught and street-trained. Their movement traditions and techniques, athletic prowess and specific skills informed Koubi's vision for this hybrid dance project.

click to enlarge NATHALIE STERNALSKI
  • Nathalie Sternalski

Like the movement, the music for What the Day Owes to the Night reflects Koubi's interest in bridging backgrounds and genres, or as he says, "the come and go between the two cultures melted in me." Sufi music mashes up with Bach and Vivaldi, and the Algerian composer Hamza El Din gets a Kronos Quartet treatment.

It's all fair game for Koubi and his fearless company of 13 gorgeous male dancers. Their sculptural physiques, well highlighted by Guillaume Gabriel's costumes, may be reason enough to buy a ticket, but the sensual power of the dance and the underlying message — that we can learn from each other and embrace different cultures — is a happy dervish in these "build the wall" days.

When the French Ministry of Culture awarded Koubi the Ordre de Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres in July 2015, his parents were finally convinced that their son's decision to forgo a practical career as a pharmacist/chemist for the stage might have been a smart move. Indeed, the prescription that Compagnie Hervé Koubi serves up — a night of mesmerizing dance and music — is just the right tonic for our time.


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