INTERVIEW WITH HERVE KOUBI
Philadelphia, October 10, 2017
By Sonia Robin
Just a few days before performing “Ce que le jour doit à la nuit” (What the Day Owes to the Night), at the Prince theater in Philadelphia, Hervé Koubi, choreographer and founder of the company gave time and an interview to the Alliance Francaise.
When he was 25, H.K. discovered his Algerian roots, which was the starting point of the work he is presenting us today, also inspired by Yasmina Khadra’s book who bears the same name as the dance creation.
Koubi bonjour, and thank you for taking time for Alliance Française. We
are thrilled that you are coming to Philadelphia this year. I believe
it is not the first time you and your company have crossed the Atlantic.
What do you expect from your U.S. tour this year?
We don’t really have a specific goal. Each time we hope to stay humble and to meet the same success. The USA has a very specific feel, with a great deal of contrast from New York to San Francisco to Hawaii. Today we are in Bethlehem, PA. It feels like we are traveling in different countries.
The first time we performed in the U.S was in the Washington suburbs 2013 and we have come 10 times since. We performed at New York’s City Center and very soon in Philadelphia! It’s like a dream has come true. Actually we would not even have dared to dream this big. The public has welcomed us warmly and with enthusiasm, it’s really great...
Do you consider the dance to be the ideal medium to testify to your French-Algerian heritage?
The ideal medium? I don’t know, but it is mine, the one I chose, or should I say the one which chose me. One falls in love with a medium and I am talking with this one. I think we need to talk about ourselves, about our inspirations and references, and we need to have this desire, this necessity to share with others. My own story is to try to find what is universal in my questionings, with my own French-Algerian story. It is a story of affiliation. I truly believe that we have origins, that we have a belonging that is even older that the story of the nations, and that it is beautiful, and that I need to share that.
Your work belongs to a continuum of ideas, a logical series of themes?
Because of my own story I wanted to focus on history, particularly the history of the Mediterranean, which is fascinating, because she is the foundation of our civilizations, from one side of the World to the other, and I think it’s a shame that this isn’t always acknowledged. I feel that dance is a place where I can nurture the fact that we can all live together.
Does the 3000 year old story of the Mediterranean echo with the much younger story of the United States?
Yes! I wasn't so sure at first. When we first performed in the US, I was a little worried, I mean how could I tell a story between France and Algeria, which is very particular?
I was afraid, not that people might not love me, but afraid of not being understood. It is critical for an artist to be understood!
The USA remembers her story very well, from many aspects. It was a colony, the African-American history still speaks… When we performed in Hawaii, I think that talking about my Algerian origins, roots, and a quest for identity echoed among the audience. While talking about my own story, others could identify their own stories .
You often refer to your work as “lace”. What is it?
Ah! Lace! Well, the raw definition of lace is to create light in material. Someone once told me at the beginning of my career--not that I feel old and I need to keep on perfecting--that person told me “this choreography is a pretty lace”. So I immediately question myself about memory, the idea of leaving something behind, I question the living while questioning its past. When I talk about lace, I mean on stage, when dancers are sometimes all together, sometimes solo, the choreography builds itself, then is taken apart, there’s the idea of a pattern, the idea of leaving a trace, the idea of a path.. And I feel that sometimes the dancer is a thread that creates a piece and the final result looks like an embroidery, a piece of lace.
In What the Day owes to the night, the beautiful title of the book by Yasmina Khadra, I found it gave memory, light to a too obscure or opaque version of History. I was attentive to the fact that civilizations that came before the Roman Empire were described as vandals, barbarians, When we take a closer look at these civilizations, we realize that they are anything but barbarians. It is the subject of my second creation that continues what the day owes to the night and that will also tour the US.
Can you talk a little bit about the dancers you call your “found brothers?"
I still work with 4 of the dancers I recruited in 2009. All the others are new. I still introduce them like that, but my path is now slightly changing, we are evolving, we go further, and in spite of the affection I have for my dancers I have become more rigorous and demanding. So, Today, my starting point is the same, which means that my dancers are still my voice, they talk with my name when they are on stage. They are my “found brothers” but they are above all dancers.
It is wonderful that we will perform in the City of Brotherly Love.
Will there be "sisters" in the company?
I have worked with women in my own artistic projects, in Algeria. It is not impossible that I might work again with women but I have assumed this choice at this time. That has been widely criticized but anyone who knows me can say that I am a true feminist. I really enjoy working with male dancers.
How do 16 people travel in the USA? Have you encountered major difficulties?
Visas are not simple… Last year only 9 of us could travel instead of 12. So far, and I hope it will stay that way, we haven’t had major problems. It is important for me to assist my dancers in their visa procedures and I am rigorous about it. To be honest, it is more difficult to obtain a visa in France than in the U.S.A. In France, there are so many demands that projects like mine are “drowned” in the mass of applications. We are lucky to have the support of the French Institute of Algiers.
Would you like to add anything about your company?
It’s is important to know that when we perform in the U.S.A, or abroad, we receive no financial support from France. It is the tickets sales that almost entirely pays for the company’s expenses. The dancers work and need to get paid. Whether they are in France or abroad, their salary stays the same. We are a small, almost entirely self financed company. We have performed about 60 times in the U.S and we are very proud and happy about that! I would also like to mention and thank the NEFA (New England Foundation for the Arts) for their financial support. We were one of the very few foreign company who got a grant from this American fund two years in a row and are very thankful for that.
Hervé Koubi grew up in the South of France where he studied both biology and dance at the University of Aix-en-Provence before graduating as a Pharmaceutical Doctor in 2002. He graduated from the world-renowned Rosella Hightower School of Dance in Cannes and danced professionally with the Opera de Marseille, Jean-Charles Gil and Jean-Christophe Paré. His major works include Le Golem, Menagerie and Les abattoirs, fantaisie, 4′30, Les Heures Florissantes (The Flowering Hours), and Moon Dogs. In 2008, he created three works based on three written works: Coppelia, une fiancée aux yeux d’email, The Supremes and Bref séjour chez les vivants. In 2009, he initiated a collaboration with Ivorian dancers from the Beliga Kopé Company for the creation of Un rendez-vous en Afrique. Since 2001, he has collaborated with Guillaume Gabriel on all major creations. He also collaborated with videographers on video dance projects: Max Vadukul for Yoji Yamamato’s Chic Chef, Pierre Magnol for Body Concrete, and Ovoid Edges, Pierre Magnol et Michel Guimbard for Body Concrete 2, and Stephane Chazelon for Une Histoire de Traces. Since 2010, he has been working with a group of 12 dancers from Algeria and Burkina Faso, all now French residents, for several productions: El Din (2010-2011), What the day owes to the night (2013), Le rêve de Léa (2014), Des hommes qui dansent (2014), Les nuits barbares (2015) and Les premiers matins du monde (2016). He is Associate Choreographer at the Pole National Supérieur de Danse since 2014 and at the Conservatoire de Danse de Brive-la-Gaillarde since 2015. In July 2015, Hervé Koubi was awarded the French medal of Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres.