Compagnie Hervé Koubi appears in the West Coast premiere of “What the Day Owes to the Night.” (Courtesy Didier Philispart)

Compagnie Hervé Koubi appears in the West Coast premiere of “What the Day Owes to the Night.” (Courtesy Didier Philispart)

Choreographer Hervé Koubi explores Algerian roots with ‘found’ brothers

Choreographer Hervé Koubi’s dance “What the Day Owes to the Night” is an intensely personal journey.

“I had to give life to my orientalist dreams. … I had to do it with dancers from Algeria using their specific skills. The youth of Algeria are like that — full of power, full of dreams also. Our ways crossed and gave this unique dance project,” says the dancemaker (via email), who brings the piece to ODC for its West Coast premiere this weekend.

The French choreographer decided to create the full-length work, which mixes capoeira, martial arts, urban and contemporary dance, when he found out he had Algerian roots at age 25. He went to Algeria, and after meeting some 250 mostly self-trained, highly skilled dancers, he selected 12 men, whom he calls his “found brothers.”

Koubi says he gave his dance the same name as a novel by Yasmina Khadra because of strong connections between the book and his life, including the fact that both he and the hero of the book are chemists, that his parents are from the same place in Algeria, Oran, where the book is set, and that “the words my father uses to describe his mother are exactly the same as those used in the novel.”

Yet Koubi selected diverse accompaniment — Sufi music, Bach, Vivaldi and Hamza El Din — for the piece, he says, to “build bridges” between the European culture he grew up in and his roots from the other side of the Mediterranean. He calls it “a come and go” between the two cultures within him.

The dance, created between 2010 and 2013, has been presented to positive reviews across the world, including Algeria, Morocco and Palestine. And even though contemporary dance is less developed in Africa than it is in Europe, Compagnie Hervé Koubi has won prizes at festivals in Algiers and in Ramallah.

Even though Koubi calls dance an “ephemeral form of art,” he says he finds himself attached to a notion of mixing time, history and commonalities in culture in his work. He describes his philosophy as being curious, open to others, and “open to falling in love with people who are very different from us.”

Before he took up dance full-time, Koubi studied to become a doctor, mostly to please his parents. (“I couldn’t stand to be in a pharmacy, selling pills, he says.) He sees no connections between pharmacy and dance, and says his even his folks are OK about the path his career has taken, particularly since he was awarded the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (Order of Arts and Letters) in July 2015 by the French Ministry of Culture.

Compagnie Hervé Koubi
Where: ODC, 3153 17th St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Jan. 22-23 (sold out), 2 p.m. Jan. 24
Tickets: $30 to $45

AlgeriachoreorgraphyCompagnie Hervé KoubiDanceFranceHervé KoubiODCWhat the Day Owes to the NightYasmina Khadra

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