The fusion of cultures that is the Mediterranean is a topic that resonates with the Maltese, particularly in an era where borders are fluid and migration a phenomenon close to us all. But of course, translating the concept to the stage is not an easy process, particularly when the chosen medium is a multi-disciplinary performance that brings together three of the high arts – dance, dramaturgy and music.
This is precisely what makes choreographer Hervé Koubi’s Le Nuits Barbares remarkable, and one of what I anticipate will be the top highlights in the upcoming Malta International Arts Festival. The show has been hailed by major critics, with The Washington Post describing it as a “breathtaking fusion of acrobatics, hip-hop and ballet”. These are words that augur well for the Maltese audience.
In creating this performance, the Franco-Algerian artist Herve Koubi has taken inspiration from the chequered history of our Mediterranean region, which straddles the African and the European continent. He uses this mix of cultures to redefine “being Mediterranean”, a concept that the Maltese audience, with our mixture of ancestries and cultures, will undoubtedly find particularly relevant.
This mix of cultures is translated to the stage through what Koubi describes as an “awe-inspiring narrative”, a theatrical choreography that symbolises the journey that we, as Mediterraneans, have lived the origins of the sea and of the “unrooted people with similar pedigree” who entrench themselves in the Mediterranean.
Koubi’s heritage has seen him dividing his time between Algeria and France, so I look forward to seeing how these cultures – so close to each other, but with marked differences – have informed his work. Asked whether he feels that audiences will appreciate this legacy, he replies that everyone is a migrant in one way or another.
“I took my inspiration in the cultures of these former civilisations. Dance has been fed with all these elements such as romantic visions of the barbarian from the 19th century and a passion for crystal and jewellery of Arabic and goth cultures,” Koubi states.
Nowadays, he adds, to be Mediterranean means to be French, Italian, Moroccan or Tunisian. But our Mediterranean civilisation stands on more than those notions of nation.
“I think it is necessary for everyone to believe in a universal culture which is at once shared, mixed and linked in order to wish for an inevitably common future.”
Dance, he adds, can help to create that universal culture since it’s a body language, and the body is the common thing that all human beings share. Thus, the most important aspect for the artist has been the dramaturgy, how to express his message with dance and anchor it in contemporary history.
“I have a contemporary approach to dance, and I’m interested in the quality of the movement, the combination of moves, the way dancers are committed to a project and how their bodies can be the extension of their thoughts, of my idea. I am not interested in movement for movement’s sake; the movements are interesting only if they are inhabited,” he explains.
The dancers of Les Nuits Barbares reflect this thinking with their hip-hop background and acrobatics. The choreography is informed both by the dancers’ skills and by Koubi’s approach to the art, and the same applies to the score, which combines the music and cultures from both sides of the Basin.
Les Nuits Barbares takes place on July 1 and 2 at 9pm at the MIAF Main Stage, Valletta Ditch, Valletta. For more news about the Malta International Arts Festival 2022, check out other performances like RootlessRoot’s Stones and Bones, Otradanza’s RITO and Carolina Eyck’s theremin performance. Book your tickets now directly from www.festivals.mt/miaf.