My first dalliance with art was not dance, but drawing. As a child I wanted to draw reality and all the images I associated with it. For example, the clouds and what I could see in them, and people and the shadows they cast. They were ‘surrealist-type’ drawings: realistic but never just the bare facts. It was my way of interpreting the reality around me. But eventually I started to get impatient. The two dimensions were no longer enough. Then I started dancing, and the nice thing about dancing is that you have to dance constantly to see the drawing. Moreover, you are both the pencil and the draughtsman. Dance is always a temporary drawing, it disappears when the movement ends. So the drawing can be written over, or rewritten at any time. Each performance has to be drawn again the next evening.
Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui is one of the most prolific choreographers and dancers in Belgium. His work is characterised by his unprejudiced openness to all cultures, languages and forms of expressivity, which has given rise to intensely personal creations. He has created dances such as Rien de Rien, Ook, It, D’Avant, FOI, Tempus Figit, Ik hou Van Jou/Je T’Aime Tu Sais, Corpus Bach, Mea Culpa, MYTH, L’Homme de Bois, Apocrifu, Origine, Sutra and BABEL.
Rien de Rien, Cherkaoui’s first choreography as a member of Les Ballets C. de la B. artistic team, toured Europe in 2000 and won the Special Prize at the BITEF Festival in Belgrade. Since then, Larbi has choreographed work for many acclaimed dance companies worldwide like Les Ballets de Monte Carlo, and Ballet du Grand Théatre de Genève.
In 2005 Larbi worked with Akram Khan for the first time. Together they created and danced the production Zero Degrees about the effect of their mixed cultural backgrounds. Zero Degrees was nominated for the Laurence Olivier Award in 2006, and went on to win two Helpman Awards in Australia in 2007. The piece, made during the fighting between Israel and Hezbolah in Lebanon, clearly bears marks of the geopolitical realities that paralleled its gestation.
Sutra, Larbi’s project in collaboration with Antony Gormley, Szymon Broska and monks from the Shaolin Temple in China fetched him a nomination in the Best Choreographer (Modern) category at the 2009 National Dance Awards in Britain. Sutra opened the Singapore Arts Festival in May 2009.
In his work, Larbi examines themes that are close to his heart: the intrinsic equality between individuals, cultures, religious viewpoints, languages and means of expression. He will soon return to his study of the notion and confusion of god in humanity’s mindscape, of man’s quest for the divine with work on BABEL, the third chapter of the trilogy that began with FOI and continued in MYTH.
In August 2008, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui received the title of Outstanding Choreographer of the Year by Ballet Tanz – the European dance journal – and its committee of forty dance critics from all over Europe for his work across 2007-2008. In the same year, Sadler’s Wells, London, named him an Associate Artist, alongside choreographers like Wayne McGregor, Christopher Wheeldon and Akram Khan.
In February 2009, he received the Kairos European Cultural Prize endowed by the Alfred Toepfer Stiftung, lauded by the jury “because he raises fundamental questions about human existence through movement and because of the connections he makes between elements of different cultures”.
2009 brought his first commissioned work for an American Company: Orbo Novo (The New World) choreographed for the New York-based Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet premiered at the historic Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival in July 2009. The piece made for sixteen dancers, was another collaboration with composer Szymon Brzóska.
Autumn 2009 will probably stand out as the season for Duets: Cherkaoui choreographed Faun on James O’Hara and Daisy Phillips as part of Sadler’s Wells’ collective evening In the Spirit of Diaghilev, and won much acclaim with Dunas, his encounter with flamenco legend, Maria Pages. He also presented a sneak preview of Play, a gentle meeting with Kutchipudi dancer Shantala Shivalingappa, towards the end of the year.
2010 marks a watershed year in the trajectory of Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui: the launch of Eastman, his company, which will be in residence at Toneelhuis, and the revival of seminal Foi mark January. In April, De Munt will host the world premiere of Babel, choreographed together with Damien Jalet, the third part of a triptych that began with Foi and continued with Myth. Babel is also the third collaboration with sculptor Antony Gormley who’s stark and modular aesthetics were seen in Zero Degrees and Sutra.
In May 2010, his choreography will embellish Guy Cassier’s vision of Das Rheingold, the first part of Wagner’s tetralogy, Der Rings Des Nibelungen, at La Scala in Milan.
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