COMPAGNIE HERVÉ KOUBI at the Holland Dance Festival 2020

Wow! I have seen top international contemporary dance and I have seen some of the world’s greatest circuses. I have also seen the Olympic Games, albeit on the telly, but I have never seen anything like the Compagnie Hervé Koubi.

Part street dance, part gymnastics, part All Black Haka and a great deal of Sufi whirling Dervishes, Ce que le jour doit à la nuit is, above all and undoubtedly, contemporary dance at its very best.

Unmistakably North African, or at least, Mediterranean, the piece features fourteen bare-chested male dancers wearing white mid-calf length skirts over white trousers. Their naked torsos revealed muscles in places where many of us don’t even have places and caused quite a flutter among the admiring ladies in the audience. But it was not just their looks that astounded.

As the lights slowly came up they revealed a heap of bodies entwined and gently unravelling like a serpent in the middle of the stage amidst swirling smoke. The smoke, to me, felt more like steam and the sweating torsos and white garb made me think Turkish bath and I was reminded of the paintings of Lawrence Alma Tadema. In fact, Koubi reveals that the Orientalist paintings of Delacroix were influential in the work.

The choreography refers to the hero of Yasmina Khadra’s epic novel of the same name which resonated with Koubi’s own discovery of his Arab and Jewish ancestry. Growing up thinking of himself as totally French, and having a common French given name, the discovery of his heritage persuaded him to look south and to investigate and celebrate things North African. The result is one of the most remarkable pieces of dance-based theatre you are ever likely to see. Despite the brute strength and macho bravado, this whirlwind of extraordinary movement and of astounding physical feats is performed with amazing grace and sophistication.

We have all seen prima ballerinas executing perfect pirouettes supported by handsome male principal dancer in bulging white tights. Now imagine that done by a man, unsupported and upside down, performing a swirling handstand like a child’s spinning top, sometimes only on one hand – incredible. There were gasps from the audience as bodies soared through the air and for a moment we could almost believe that man could fly.

But it wasn’t just the movement – the whole production was spectacular with the aforementioned simple, yet perfect costumes by Guillaume Gabriel and Lionel Buzonie’s beautiful palette of lights, creating atmosphere piercing the ever-present haze of smoke. The overall theme of the music was Arab with pieces by Maxime Bodson, Hamza El Din by the Kronos Quartet, Musique Soufi as well as a bit of JS Bach thrown in for good measure, but there were also quite a few silent passages.

Ce que le jour doit à la nuit  was an amazing – sorry, I seem to have run out of superlatives – piece of physical theatre and one which I will long remember. If you only see one show this year, make this it.    Michael Hasted at the Theater de Veste in Delft,    31st January 2020

Photo Cr®dit    Ahmad Daghla

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