Compagnie Hervé KOUBI burned up The Joyce Theater stage with Koubi’s “Sol Invictus” (“Invincible Sun”), a 75-minute dance exploration of the outer limits of human athleticism and endurance.
A long program note written by Koubi proclaimed his inspiration in creating “Sol Invictus.” Of his many ostentatious claims the one that rings truest is that, in this ballet, he wanted “to celebrate life and bring us together.” He also made reference to the work being a rite, a rite taking place in a world of its own.
This hotbed of virtuosity, indeed, made his troupe one gorgeous community of physically exuberant and fearless citizens. Whether he communicated any deeper existential or human truths probably differs with each viewer’s sensibility, but watching these fine physical specimens flip, fly, roll and balance on their heads had its vicarious thrills, perhaps dimmed with the constant repetition of feats of athletic prowess to the point of exhaustion. Perhaps sensing this, Koubi doubled down and ended the work with dancers being tossed high and caught at the last moment, an adrenaline rush if there ever was one.
On an eerily shadowy, hazy stage—dramatically focused lighting by Lionel Buzonie—the 18 dancers strolled purposely onto the stage one by one filling the space to the edges. They wore Guillaume Gabriel’s simple, loose two-piece culotte costumes in various colors, the men occasionally removing the tops to dance bare-chested.
One of these bare-chested men began “Sol” walking around the stage, almost jaunty in his sensuality, as the rest of the cast, an array of very healthy bodies, practically vibrated waiting to show their stuff. (One extraordinary dancer was missing a leg which didn’t seem to stop him from joining what became a community effort.)
“Sol Invictus” was divided into discrete sections defined by changes in music and shifts in lighting. A Beethoven Symphony accompanied one of the less hyperactive scenes in which the dancers, lit by diagonal shafts of light, wandered about like a lost tribe as they selected what appeared to be a spiritual leader, wrapping her in a huge golden cloth that almost enveloped the stage. Otherwise, the music by Mikael Karlsson, Maxime Bodson and Steve Reich seemed to exist as occasional aural assists to the hyperactive choreography.
The movement palette was most closely related to Hip-Hop street dancing, raised to the level of art by the awe-inspiring performers and the production values that surrounded Koubi’s vision.
The high-flying choreography of Koubi’s “Sol Invictus” made the finale of Paul Taylor’s “Esplanade” look like a tea party, the major difference being that Taylor knew how to shape a work and lacked pretention.
Even so, “Sol Invictus,” taken just as an exhibition of courage and daring made it a unique experience in a more earthbound world of dance.
Compagnie Hervé KOUBI (January 23 – 28, 2024)
The Joyce Theater, 175 Eighth Avenue, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-242-0800 or visit http://www.Joyce.org
Running time: 75 minutes without an intermission