Reviewed by Steve Sucato
The second to last production of DANCECleveland’s 2019-2020 season, French troupe Compagnie Hervé KOUBI arrived in Cleveland to a sold-out show last Saturday, February 15 at Playhouse Square’s Mimi Ohio Theatre. Those attending got what they came for as the all-male company (for this production) of 15 mostly former street dancers from Algeria, Morocco France, Italy, Israel and Slovenia eagerly lived up to audience expectations in a dazzling performance of choreographer Hervé Koubi’s 2013 work What the day owes to the night.
Presented by DANCECleveland and Tri-C Performing Arts, What the day owes to the night gets its title and a bit of inspiration from Algerian writer Yasmina Khadra’s 2010 novel of the same name about a boy moved from one family to the next. Koubi, who grew up in Cannes, France, took that idea and applied it to his own personal journey of discovery of his Algerian heritage that the abstract contemporary dance piece explores. Anchored in capoeira, gymnastics, parkour and breakdance movement, What the day owes to the night took the audience along for a ride of extremes in athleticism and grace.
The company’s physically-ripped bare-chested and barefoot dancers in long white flowing skirts atop white pants tempered the rawness of North African/Mediterranean street dance with the well-rehearsed stage choreography of Koubi that made for a potent combination that was both mesmerizing and awe-inspiring.
Danced to a wide-ranging atmospheric score comprised of original music by Belgian musician/sound designer Maxime Bodson along with music by Hamza El Din, Jean-Sébastien Bach, Sufi music and silence, the mood of the work shifted from high-energy to dreamlike and mystical and back again. Within that, the dancers performed an array of upside down whirling dervish spins on their heads and hands, gymnastic tumbling runs and various capoeira-inspired jumps and leg sweeps. The dancer’s high-flying machismo-fueled antics at times gave way to periods of lush, slow movement reminiscent of butoh dance troupe Sankai Juku with the occasional dancer coming to a dead stop to take in his surroundings and the efforts of his fellow dancers or marching in rows like some kind of street dance clergy on the move to sacred choral music.
The non-stop piece sans intermission appeared to follow no central figure along this journey, instead showcasing a bevy of solos, duets and group dances that gave each of the company’s dancers room to shine.
One of many visually bold movement sequences repeated a few times in the work found long-dreadlock-haired dancer El Houssaini Zahid lifted backwards onto the shoulders of several fellow dancers and falling backwards to the ground, taking the entire company of dancers onstage with him like collapsing dominoes — the effect was spiritual.
What the day owes to the night concluded with dancer Bendehiba Maamar emerging from the full company of dancers to the front of the stage to quietly recite in Arabic a poem by Koubi as the stage lights gradually dimmed. He repeated the phrase “I went there” followed by those places that were perhaps reflected in the dance work’s journey. Fittingly, as the curtain closed on the troupe, the audience erupted with a well-deserved standing ovation.