Vancouver Playhouse – April 7, 2017
Identity is a reoccurring concept that we question in ourselves and in others throughout our lives.
The creation of Ce que la jour doit à la nuit (What the day owes to the night) began with choreographer Hervé Koubi’s own exploration into his Algerian roots. Born in France, his parents raised him with little exposure to Algerian culture and the Arabic language. It wasn’t until the age of 25, Koubi explained in the pre-show talk, that he made his first visit to Algeria – a visit that greatly inspired his work.
In 2009, he auditioned a group of street dancers in Algeria – these were dancers who weren’t trained in conservatories, but practiced breakdance, capoeira and hip hop, learnt from each other and the internet. Out of the 200 people who attended the audition, only one was female – due to the country’s discouragement of women from participating in activities at night and at the venues where street dancers would typically gather. With 12 men whom he selected from the audition, Koubi created a few works that explored his connection with Algeria and Africa. In 2013, he created Ce que la jour doit à la nuit (What the day owes to the night).
This evening, the piece was performed by ten dancers instead of twelve (two of the dancers’ passports were held up at the US Embassy; the company is in the midst of a tour to several cities in Canada and the U.S.). Without comparison to any previous performance, I didn’t find their absence noticeable. The fluid formations made by the ten dancers adequately filled the stage. Costume designer Guillaume Gabriel dressed the dancers in white wide-legged pants that had a flap of thigh-length fabric in the front, while lighting designer Lionel Buzonie’s unembellished illumination kept the emphasis on the dancers’ movements.
The most beautiful aspect of this piece was Koubi’s mastery in composition. His hand is subtle – deftly incorporating different dance languages into a cohesive expression. This was complemented by the diverse score that sampled compositions from Bach to Sufi music. In one scene, a few dancers performed Sufi whirling, while between them, other dancers spun on their heads in a breakdancing move. Capoeira was the dominant language in the piece, and Koubi composed expressive phrases using its spiraling aesthetic and partnering patterns.
The piece ebbed and flowed seamlessly from one scene to the next, sometimes with meditative effect. A dancer who hopped onto his hands and spun his legs in the air downstage was echoed by another dancer who did the same upstage. In one phrase, a dancer, lifted to standing on the shoulders of the ensemble, tipped dramatically backwards into the arms of a few dancers who caught him assuredly; this phrase was repeated almost immediately like a reverberating energy. Koubi also left gaps of stillness, as if to recognize that dance expression was like a verbal conversation that needed pause to breathe.
However tempting the dancers’ athletic and acrobatic capabilities might’ve been, Koubi refrained from showing stunts for embellishment sake. Instead, his choreography honoured the expressive qualities of each dance language, and in doing so, Ce que la jour was an honest exploration of a multitude of identities – perhaps those which Koubi suggests are within himself.