The Yard offers a winter delight

Zakaria Ghezal rehearses in a private dance studio in Edgartown. —Gabrielle Mannino

The performance ended in silence, my body was tingly, I wanted the room to stay quiet. I was in the front row near a speaker, causing vibrations through my entire being during the one hour and 35-minute performance — danced without intermission. Applause burst from the audience. I was standing along with everyone else at the Performing Arts Center, yelling “Bravo!” It was difficult to speak. The work, the performers, the evening had elevated my spirits, moving us through a tale of humanity and brotherhood, transcending the physical to a sated spiritual sensibility. The evening had been a stunning tour de force executed by 13 male dancers, who had all started as street dancers, but now have performed to sold-out audiences around the world.

On Monday, Jan. 22, Cie Hervé Koubi performed “Ce Que le Jour Doit à la Nuit” (What the Day Owes to the Night) at the PAC, thanks to the Yard and funding from Boston’s Barr Foundation, the New England Foundation for the Arts, the NEA, six New England state arts agencies, and the M.V. Cultural Council. So you might say it took a village to get these performers here. Going to see performances in the off-season means being in a room where friends greet family, neighbors, teachers, and other community members, always reinforcing a sense of home and sharing the treasures that wash up on our shores.

This was the first dance residency for the Compagnie Hervé Koubi that included a community component, though they regularly teach master classes in many places they perform around the world. After Monday night’s performance, the company returned to the PAC Tuesday morning for a 35-minute excerpt performed at 9 am for the high school on a flex period. Then students got a chance to meet the company for a Q and A on Thursday morning. Meanwhile, a few company members, including Guillaume Gabriel (choreography assistant/costume designer/music arrangements) from France, and dancers Issa Sanov from Burkina Faso and Houssni Mijem from Morocco, taught three classes to the seventh and eighth graders at the West Tisbury School, where by the end of the class, everyone was dancing, including athletic director Joe Schroeder. Then more rehearsal and work before heading to New York’s Joyce Theater. Many dance companies and performing artists pass through the Yard; perhaps it’s just winter, but even the staff, admitted Jesse Keller, co-producer and director of Island Programs and Education, “will miss this company terribly.” The good news is everyone who wanted to bring all their friends will hopefully be able to do so this summer. Let’s keep our fingers crossed the Yard gets Compagnie Hervé Koubi back so we can share them with everyone we love.

What some Islanders thought about the performance:

“What stuck with me most about this piece is the fact that with all that flipping and flying, I never heard them land! And they were so aware of their space and environment. It was wonderful to see 13 men dance in tune with each other, and be aware of each movement, and know when to shift out of someone’s way, or when to subtly pull a costume piece back into place seconds before doing a three-flip maneuver across the stage. The music, the lighting, the environment in conjunction with 13 men dancing in sync made for an amazing visual journey.” –Scott Crawford, dancer, actor, and co-director of Pathways Arts

“They were like planets flying in the day sky. Billowing clouds, sails in the wind! The experience filled me with beauty and energy. I told everyone I love to come see them!” –Joan LeLacheur, artist, lighthouse keeper

“I have been thinking all week about Cie Hervé Koubi: Images of male beauty, strength, grace, vigor, and tenderness, the classical beauty of the male body as portrayed in the sculpture of ancient Greece and Rome combined with powerful street dancing! Unforgettable.” –Roberta Kirn, dancer/choreographer, Song Project founder

“It was a surprise and an almost giddy delight to see an assemblage of men’s bodies create this seamless, living tapestry of such tenderness and grace, despite the uncanny strength the vocabulary demanded.” –Abby Bender, dancer/choreographer, founder of Built on Stilts

“What I found so impressive was the lightness of their beings … as solid as they appeared. I was in the second row, and they landed soundlessly each time. Even with those remarkable heights they catapulted to. So much was going on onstage that sometimes I did not know where to look, but all of it flowing, resolving, intimately interacting …”–Keren Tonnesen, designer, hula hooper, co-director of Pathways Arts

Below is the English translation of words spoken in Arabic at the end of the performance by a single dancer, written by Hervé Koubi “during the process of creating the work.” He needed to write “the feelings he had for the path he was living and for the dancers that he was considering as his found brothers,” according to Guillaume Gabriel.

I went there on the other side of the sea that saw me grow up on mine but unknown land.

I went there to see the streets, the houses and the tombs.

I went there without knowing what I was looking for.

I went there to face the void. I went there to meet my lost brothers.

I went there and my tears sank facing the forgetfulness and cruel past time.

I went there and I brought back my brothers finally found in my heart.

I went there fulfilled in a brotherly love nowhere else known.

I went there out of love for them and for mine.

I went there because I believe in the strength of love and spirit.

I went there

I went there …

Watching these young men who’ve chosen this challenging path can only inspire a needed sense of supportive humanity. The commitment dancers make is to move from their hometowns, their families, their home countries, to pursue this work which requires all one can physically muster beyond the highest level of focus and mental attention. I look forward to their return on our shores. In the meantime, if you missed them you can see some here:

This article by Valerie Sonnenthal originally appeared on