Internationally known, Hervé Koubi is considered one of the preeminent choreographers from France. Yet arguably, what has most influenced his work over the past decade is reconnecting to his family’s roots in Algeria, exemplified in his work “What the Day Owes to the Night.” On Jan. 21, he and his Compagnie Hervé Koubi present a new re-creation of the roughly 75-minute work at the Emerson Cutler Majestic Theatre as part of Global Arts Live’s Winter Dance Fest 2023.
A work for 13 men, “What the Day Owes to the Night” is a fluidly organic fusion of break-dance, capoeira, martial arts, and contemporary dance that is as poetically mesmerizing as it is athletically virtuosic. Bare-chested men in long white flowing split skirts spin on their heads and twirl like dervishes, tumbling and vaulting into soaring leaps and blind drops into outstretched arms. But instead of the competitive bravado one might expect, it unfolds with a sense of communal ritual, vulnerability, and trust, evoking the ever-shifting patterns and mercurial energy of desert sands.
Global Arts Live founder and director of artistic programs Maure Aronson calls the ensemble “incredibly powerful.” He says, “I recall the first time I saw them in a small showcase in New York City. I was sitting very close to the dancers, and the energy that came off that stage was almost overwhelming. I was moved in a way that I hadn’t been in a long time and thought: I have to bring them to Boston.”
And so he did, in sold-out performances in 2016 and 2018 at the Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston. He says the upcoming presentation of “What the Day Owes to the Night” at the larger Majestic Theatre will allow more people to see the work.
“It was an absolute hit with audiences in Boston and it’s been reworked with a different cast of dancers. I hear it’s even better than the first version, though that’s hard to imagine.” The ensemble includes nationalities ranging from Algeria and Morocco to Italy and Spain, all contributing distinctive skills, techniques, and personalities. In addition, this iteration of the work has new music and choreographic elements.
Partly inspired by Yasmina Khadra’s 2008 novel of the same name, “What the Day Owes to the Night” is intensely personal for Koubi. Born and raised in France, he was 25 years old before his father, on his deathbed, shared experiences of his native Algeria during the country’s complicated war for independence from France. These new revelations of family history spurred the young dancer/choreographer to journey to Algeria in 2009 to more deeply connect with his roots and the country’s dark history.
Traveling alone there, he found community in local dancers. He held auditions and assembled a group of 12 Algerian street performers, forming a company and creating his most famous work, “What the Day Owes to the Night.” His company has toured it, often along with Koubi’s more recent pieces, for over a decade. “It was an important little revolution of my career,” Koubi says.
While Koubi’s initial inspiration for the work was an exploration of his own identity, he says the new re-creation has a more global vision, embracing not just his own history but focusing on our common humanity. “With all the current problems with migration, it is important to pay tribute to our mutual history between the shores of the Mediterranean Basin,” he says.
“The first links were connected to the choreography of Arabic culture, and I found inspiration in that. The new project makes movement links between different people and finds connections.” Even the costumes have been updated to include lace, which Koubi says “symbolizes all the threads that come together to create a new fabric.”
The score for “What the Day Owes to the Night” is symbolic as well, drawing from influences as wide-ranging as sacred Sufi music and Bach’s “St. John Passion.” Koubi sees it as a kind of dialogue between the east and the west.
While he has no specific expectation for how audiences will receive the work, he hopes they tap into the sense of urgency and emotion with which he offers it.
“I want them to make their own opinions, but I hope they come out of the theater moved. It’s not just an athletic performance, but at the end there’s a meaning, that [humanity] is much older than our nations and religions. I love when people say two things after a performance – that they feel we are connected whatever our origins, and that all the men dancers are powerful but not afraid to show fragility and femininity.”
COMPAGNIE HERVÉ KOUBI
“What the Day Owes to the Night”
Presented by Global Arts Live at Emerson Cutler Majestic Theatre
Jan. 21. 617-876-4275, www.globalartslive.org
Karen Campbell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.