Posted: 3:07 p.m. Wednesday, February 01, 2017
Not until he became an adult was French contemporary choreographer Herve Koubi shown a photograph of his grandfather: a man dressed in flowing Algerian garb somewhere on the other side of the Mediterranean from his native Cannes. And so began Koubi’s journey to create his 2013 dance work What the Day Owes to the Night.
Presented Tuesday at the Kravis Center’s Rinker Playhouse, this is a poetic and virtuosic meditation concerning the pull of cultures toward each other; clashing and supporting as they move on a journey toward a spiritual place of serenity.
It is a full-length work for an extraordinary ensemble of 12 male dancers — Koubi’s “found brothers”— hailing from Algeria and Burkina Faso.
What the Day Owes to the Night revolves around 10 or so tableaux. Each has an arc that mirrors a day — brilliantly lit by Lionel Buzonie — starting with a murky, hazy dusk reaching heated afternoons and fading into contemplative nights. In one of the middle tableaux, rapturous choral music by Bach culminates in bodies being flung — nay, launched — high into space and then lovingly caught, cradled as they fall to the earth. The enduring themes are reaching to the heavens, embracing and assisting one’s neighbor, flinging and running as a clan, and gently observing as others work their way on the journey of mutual transcendence.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about the work is its vocabulary, a deft mix of hip-hop, Capoeira, break dance and gymnastics. This work gives no nod to any Western classical dance mode. The men spin, flip, lift and throw each other with a death-defying grace and brilliance not frequently seen in Western theater.
If the work has any weakness it that this dance is so packed full of virtuosic movement that it never really advances as a work of theater. The beginning, middle and the end of the work are largely the same. While the work is wonderfully performed and choreographed, it suffers from a lack of overall theatrical progression.
But it is visually and kinetically stunning dance that offers a unique vision of two worlds reaching for each other.