For 23 years, Herve Koubi has created dance pieces for his all-male company that break boundaries, combining hip-hop, capoeira and urban dance to create “more of a new ballet of the 21st century,” as he described it. The calibre of his work has amassed a global audience and over 73,000 followers on Instagram.
When Koubi brings his piece The Barbarian Nights or the First Dawns of the World to Royal Theatre in Victoria on Feb. 2 and 3, 13 street dancers from Algeria, Morocco, France and Burkina Faso will take to the stage, exploring a narrative as bold as their glittering headgear inspired by Swarovski.
Born to a Muslim mother and Jewish father, and of French and Algerian descent, Koubi came up with the show’s concept while questioning his family’s historical roots in Algeria and diving deeply into the history of cultures that built the Mediterranean Basin. Playing with the word barbarian developed into this narrative project; a “travel through time,” Koubi said in an interview. He unearthed that the word ‘barbarian’ was derived from the Greek ‘bárbaros’ to describe all foreigners and was likely onomatopoeic in origin, with “bar bar” representing the foreign sound of other languages.
“With the word barbarian, I wanted to talk about what is not you … that everyone is the barbarian of the other one,” Koubi said. “If you want to create a world where you can live together, I think you have to try to look into the history of your neighbour to understand him and his culture.
“For me, it was a journey to discover, to peel off all the layers of unknown that there is on the other and maybe once you pull everything off, you realize you share more [than you thought].”
“At the beginning, the dancers have masks, really glittering with crystals and I wanted them to be at the same time fascinating and also inspire fear, even in the way they dance. It’s absolutely not organic and little by little they peel all the layers of their costumes,” he said.
By the end, the dancers are left in a pair of jeans. As one of the most basic wardrobe items in many cultures, jeans represent a discovered commonality and put the dancers on the same level as the audience.
“In the cast, there are dancers coming from all over the Mediterranean Basin … some of them were not supposed to live and dance together,” he said. “I think maybe if we can dance together, maybe it’s the beginning to start to live together. This is what I want to share with the audience. Don’t stay in your own little bubble, but be curious.”
Tickets starting at $31 are available at rmts.bc.ca.