The Sunday Times: Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui on his new Sadler’s Wells performaces, Icon and Noetic

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Was there a more iconic music video in 2018 than the Carters’ Apeshit? Shot in the Louvre, with the Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo as part of the backdrop, it — literally — positioned Beyoncé and Jay-Z among the art establishment.

Apeshit was choreographed by the Flemish-Moroccan dancer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui. Born in Antwerp, he’s often asked if he feels more Moroccan than Belgian. “I feel both,” he says. “You can be many things.” He brings the same approach to dance, combining classical technique with hip-hop moves, belly-dancing, even spoken word.

It was pop music, however, that drew him to dance. “I’m from the MTV generation,” he says when we meet in his dressing room, where he sips green tea as he talks. “Fame, Michael Jackson and Madonna. Kate Bush was very important to me.” He recalls watching Jackson and Bush perform, amazed and thinking, “I wish I could do that.” At 17 he worked as a go-go dancer in nightclubs to make extra money.

Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui

Yet he saw pop’s limits. “It’s fun, but it doesn’t speak about what I want to speak about. This is going to come across as arrogant — sorry — but I felt contemporary art was so many steps beyond that.”

He studied traditional music from Italy, Corsica, Japan and Korea, making his first work for Les Ballets C de la B and then becoming artist-in-residence at Antwerp’s Toneelhuis. He collaborated with the performance artist Marina Abramovic, and also with the artist Antony Gormley — for Icon and Noetic, but most notably on Sutra, featuring Shaolin monks, and Babel (Words), which won an Olivier award. (He won a second for Puz/zle.) Now he manages more jobs than George Osborne, as artistic director at the Royal Ballet of Flanders, artistic director of his own company, Eastman, and associate artist at Sadler’s Wells.


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