A dancer’s mythology

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INTERVIEW Glimpses, by the Belgian-Morrocan choreographer, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui was a performance that was well-loved by the audience, who gave it a standing ovation HARSHINI VAKKALANKA

Truth is an ongoing processSidi Larbi CherkaouiPhoto: K.GOPINATHAN
Truth is an ongoing processSidi Larbi CherkaouiPhoto: K.GOPINATHAN

Glimpses was composed of four duets, Matter from a previous piece called Origine (2008), Pure from a piece called TeZuka which was originally a tribute to the Japanese manga artist Osamu Tezuka, Sin from a piece called Babel done in collaboration with French choreographer Damien Jalet and Faun, which was part of London’s Sadler’s Wells (it retained its original name).

“Throughout the last five years I have been developing work in Europe, where there were always different relationships, different dialogues that were emerging between a man and a woman. A year and a half ago my company invested in them to make them stand out for themselves and give them their own space,” said Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui at a press interaction before his performance.

Each of these duets explored a particular underlying philosophy. “Matter is about materialism and how we relate to each other and to whatever is an object and a body. The second piece, Pure, is more abstract. It’s about yin and yang, about male and female and the search of purity. The original Sin shows the relationship between Adam and Eve, there’s something scary and destructive, which is also beautiful,” explains the choreographer, who recently worked on Joe Wright’s Anna Karenina .

With a background in ballet, tap, hip-hop, jazz, flamenco, Sidi’s first choreographic stint in contemporary began with Anonymous Society, a musical by Andrew Wale and Perrin Manzer Allen. But his rise to fame happened with works such as Rien de Rien (2000), Foi (2003) and Tempus Fugit (2005) and later, works like Zero Degree (with Akram Khan), Dunas (with Maria Pages) and Sutra (where he worked with Shaolin monks).

But then Faun that is danced to classical music is more mild, exploring the innocence in the interaction between the mythical half-goat, half-man (or boy) who belongs to the Greek mythology and a nymph. Sidi says he has consciously stayed away from “taboo” in this performance unlike Nijinsky, whose piece was considered quite controversial.

“Nijinsky’s Faun was pictorial, his imagery drew from Greek vases. I tried to be more animal like. It’s a very nice encounter between two young creatures in the woods. It’s sensual but there’s not the typical fear we have with sexuality. There’s nothing shocking, it’s natural.”

Glimpses has definite links to mythology, especially in Sin, which depicts Eve drawing her resisting man out ,though the mythological links are more obvious in Faun. “Belgium is a Christian country, and we have grown with certain archetypes and forms of mythology which is ours to retell and reinterpret. That’s what we do.”

His connection with mythology goes deeper, to his childhood growing up with a Muslim father and a Christian mother in a school that was non-believing, adding layers to his perspective on life.

And mythology was a source of solace, in such an environment. “What I like about mythology is that it’s not about right or wrong it’s about consequences. Mythology has stories that very often seem impossible for most people. But there’s always a central truth. If something traumatised me in my childhood I know I have something to rely on because I know it happened to somebody else. I can learn from that,” he explains.

“What I try to do with my work is just present something and defend something that relates to my contemporary experience. So what I would do is to bring you into what I see. It evolves. My thinking about life is not fixed. Everyday somebody says something that puts it all in perspective. I think truth is an ongoing process, not something you can cling onto.”

What I like about mythology is that it’s not about right or wrong it’s about consequences. Mythology has stories that very often seem impossible for most people



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