15 Mayıs 2015 Cuma

The Choreographer in the Purgatorio: Sidi Larbi Cherkaui - Part II

This interview with Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui was made on the 2nd of May 2015 at the Cemal Reşit Rey Concert Hall in Istanbul, Turkey.  
Redaction: Ayşe Draz
[Bu metnin Türkçe versiyonu TEB Oyun Dergisi'nin önümüzdeki sayısında yayınlanacaktır.]

 Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui
(Photo: Koen Broos)
I saw “Play” last night and founded it very a personal and intimate piece. It seems to me as if you don’t set any bounds to yourself or to the piece, as if you didn’t felt any pressure how it will be received by the critics or by the producers. Why am I saying that? Because first of all I heard a song from a Disney-animation “Aladdin”: “The Whole New World”. I know that you like Kate Bush very much but “The Whole New World” is really..
Very far.

And also the movements, the choreography is like a summary of your dance carrier; there is tango, tap, hip-hop, jazz, flamenco, oriental. As if you and Shantala Shivalingappa brought your backgrounds to the piece. As if you feel free to do what you wanted...
It’s thanks to being on stage with Shantala that I’m so free. Shantala wanted to make a positive piece. I was like, oh God how we gonna do this, only positive. But it was very good that she said this to me. She said: I don’t want to go there because it’s not necessary, we can stay with each other on this and this level. So it was about teasing each other but always was like a competition of intelligence. We, even chess; chess is a very difficult. and games; sometimes people say games are easy; no, games are very difficult, very difficult to play good. We are constantly try to challenge each other; playing piano, playing with puppets… And every time we are adding on a challenge to each other and seeing how it would react. 
It’s true that from the dance background there are moments that I’ll pull her in a direction and she’ll pull me in her direction. She bring the Indian mudras and hand gestures and I would work with hips and to do my style what I learned when I was a child, and to see how you learn to dance with me. And so what we were trying to do is making a dialogue in movement and it’s true, it’s based on our backgrounds, but it feels freedom that we provoke in each other. 
It’s thanks to her that I can do this. If I would make a solo, it would be different. I would put another frame. But the frame was bigger because of Shantala and because this dialogue the frame was actually a more theatrical frame. So even we are dancing we are playing; it’s still acting between us. So we are acting different ways of moving; sometimes very contemporary, sometimes very either oriental or we go into something very like Kuchipudi Southern Indian dance. It was a way for us to talk.
And the song is the same; when thinking about Shantala and me, oh we look like Aladdin and Jasmin. So I said may be I’m the Arab prince and I put you on my carpet to go and then we also do it with irony, because the lyrics says “open my eyes” but we are blindfolded, we don't see anything; also there is always a second layer for ourselves between each other.
And the last thing is about happiness. This kind of Disney movies, I remember when I was a kid, it made me happy, but I didn’t understand where it was pushing the elements of happiness or pleasure or was it about that make me happy and then there is the analysis she does; Shantala explains the difference between happiness and pleasure and practice being happy, which I think is very interesting. And I think the song which is like a joke, but it also make people smile. Also when I dance with someone from the audience, I can feel it’s really, people go like, “ooo it’s so easy and yeh, this is life”; it is very easy actually, if we just take the time to meet and so this is the point of the text after; the text explains what we just did. Otherwise I’ll not go to Broadway, I’m not good enough for Broadway.  

 Play
(Photo: Koen Broos)

The idea of  “doppelgänger” is very evident in all your pieces. There is always another self, another individual, another ego in your protagonists. You are realizing this idea with different mediums; sometimes with puppets (as in “Apocrifu”), usually by means of playing with shadows (Zero Degrees, Dunas), also by mirroring/shadowing people by others (as in “Zero Degrees). What fascinates you, why are you so interested in the “other”?
At times for myself; it was because I don’t always like myself. And then you try to be someone else, you try to find another person, because you think “may be if I do like her, I’ll change”, so it’s also about self image. I think, now after I’m 39 I feel better. I always had difficulty, and one of the reason why I dance like other people I wanna to be like other people, I don’t want to be myself, I wanna be like this or like that and so I was constantly tried to be like them and it’s always fails never became like that. But then I keep on trying. And eventually you start feeding yourself with elements of this people you imitate, they become you and you become them. So the idea of “doppelgänger” becomes like two imitation; you do learn to become like another person. And it’s like a baby, you know; I remember the kids of my brother, you wave them and they wave you back, they are already using the doppelgänger, they already mimicking you because they feel “I just do the same to acknowledge that I saw you do this to me” and this way of waving he will probably carry at the rest of his life. Because this is what I gave, and he gave back but he already kept. And I think, if you think like this you can learn anything, you can learn to play piano, just by looking and by imitating.
But I come from a generation of students of dance, we were taught not to imitate, we were taught you have to find your own style, you have to do your own thing. But I think it’s dangerous when you don't go through the stages of imitation before you find your own way. Imitation is not negative. But sometimes we are teaching people too fast to not imitate.
What happened for me when I was student and people said “don’t do this” and “don’t do that”, I said “but I liked this”, “ok, don’t do” but “I liked this”. After a while nothing is left of what you liked. Because may be what you like is somewhere out there already. I remember I saw Pina at work and I said “this is what I wanted to do”. “no you can not do, she does arms, you can not do arms”. And I said “why not?”, “because, this is Pina”, and I said “but I’m sure Pina wouldn’t mind” and I met her and asked her “can I do arms?” and she said “of course” and everything is ok. Because you get to a point where you are upset by the people around telling you not to do certain things that actually you probably need to do. You probably just need to try. And that’s why, now when people are imitating my work, I’m flattered and I’m like “it’s ok as long as eventually you do your thing, but if you need to go through this, fine.” I mean I’m flattered and I’m really happy to inspire you to do something. But then it will change, it will change with time. I know that my own work came from being inspired by other people.

You also use people as puppets which are governed/manipulated by other people (as in “In memoriam”, “Dunas”, “Apocrifu”) It seems that you are very interested in the person dominated by another person/religion/power.
Manipulated by some sort of invisible factors in our lives. We are behaving but there are some certain strings making us do what we do.
And I think since “Foi” I’m trying to address these strings; what are these strings? In “Myth” they are more the shadow in your head. It was like you can see the manipulator but you can not touch him. But he can make you do things, it’s a dark side of you. Or the other side, the one you are not showing, whatever you are not; Jung. I’m doing this and there is inside me doing the opposite. And this shadow element is important.
In “Babel” with Damien Jalet we spoke about virtual identity like facebook, twitter, all this things that you are pretending to, you make a constellation or a some sort of identity for yourself on virtual plane. You type and you do, and this is you. But it’s of course not you; it’s a construction of you. And to this construction people react on it, and that makes you think differently about yourself. All day long we are constantly suffering from some sort of schizophrenia, and it’s something that I try to address in performances.
In “Play” there is a moment where I do play Shantala as a puppet and later myself and also I try to cut the cords, to see what’s left if you take all influence what is left. We don’t know, maybe it’s energy or something or another influence. May be we have to live through the influences everything around us.

And at the end of “Apocrifu”…
it become heavier and heavier to carry yourself. “Apocrifu” is a very sad piece, because it’s really about acceptance of like; if you listen to everything around you, if you listen to the books and if you listen to the politics, you have to die. Because you don’t belong. 
I mean ideologies and dogmas are made to destroy you. I mean they are not made to offer you any salvation. You need do hara-kiri or to throw yourself from a window because you don’t belong and because none of us are strong, enough perfect and enough to fit into the framework that has been given by the religions. I mean this was my take on it, ok, if I need to be all this then I have to kill myself because there is nothing left. This was the end of “Apocrifu”. It’s very tragic.
It’s just theatre…

In one of the interviews you said that “the ones which are between things are better than the pure ones”. And in all your pieces are dealing with “dualities”, “intra cultures”.  After terrible killings of Charlie Hebdo, regarding the atmosphere of despair about foreigners, immigrants and rise of the right wing in the West/Europe; your way of looking at things (at religion, at power, at repression) becomes much more important and crucial. What is being like to live, to produce work, to take position in a post Charlie Hebdo reality?
I think I’m from a generation who reconcile things, tries to put things together so that even think they I’m trying to find a way that there is dialogue possible. And it’s very utopic and very naïve for some people, but I think it’s only way because the only other way is to take position and once you take position you’re in a constant battle. Which is eventually going to destroy more than it’s going to construct.
So I think contamination is really important, the reason I do the Ballet of Flanders because I’m a Arab, it’s because I’m from contemporary dance, it’s because all the things in my life put me in this place that I was requested to do this, and I said ok, I’ll do it and I know what it will hopefully...
It’s very interesting because the opera director is Jewish. So in Antwerp we have a Jewish opera director and an Arab ballet director working side by side and developing a vision for this opera house. I think it’s important political message. And so I tried to think in these terms trying to set by example and seeing how I can in some way take responsibility, very small responsibility who I’m and this body can do, and then I try to set like seeds that hopefully will grow in certain things. And the way I get my energy from the people like Shaolin temple or people like Shantala, she is incredible, very smart, really attentive and really good person, and I surround myself with people that are really positive, because I’m actually a very dark person, really. I just try to play positive, because I know it’s so hard and it is the biggest challenge in my life to think positive. As long as I know this dark side but there is a desire for light, there is a desire for positiveness, that I hope it’s stronger then any kind of impulse to negativity.
But these are difficult times and I think that rebels are very important, I think I have to be on the verge of construction, I need to be more homoepathic, the only way for me to find a way is to connect to dots. By sometimes talking to the people may be, some people say “don’t talk to them” but this is the people we need to talk to. We have a lot of not extreme right but right wing in Flanders, and I have lots of opinions about what they have been doing wrong but I also think, I need to address, step by step we need to stay in a dialogue, because it’s the only way to make them turn their own vision. Because if not, you are in a constant black and white situation. It’s not constructive.

You have intense pieces (duos like “Zero degrees”, “Dunas”, “Play”, trios like “Apocrifu, quartet “D’avant”) which I call “chamber-choreographies” like chamber music or chamber theater. You are working also with big ballet companies like Monte-Carlo, Geneve, Goteburg. You are working with people with different backgrounds and sometimes you are working with classical dancers and contemporary dancers in the same piece. How do you manage to cope with this plurality?
It’s not something I manage, it is something I need; I need that. Otherwise I would get so bored if I was all the time with the same type of people I’ll go crazy. Because I work with ballet dancers, and then when I work back with contemporary dancers, there is another appreciation for contemporary dancers. And the other way round; when I’m working with contemporary dancers I come back to the ballet dancers, its like holiday. Because suddenly they think differently and they have another way of; so I can change my way because they are different.
So I think I need this diversity. It’s not something that I suffer from. It’s something that makes my life interesting. I would really really find it hard if I constantly in the same context. This is the one thing that can kill me is going in the same, having the routine; I need this diversity. So I’m always happy when I work with a different company. For example recently I did something with three dancers from L.A. Dance Project, and it was very exciting because very strong, good, beautiful dancers. And then I come back to do something with students in London which was 38 students and contemporary dancers, I was really like waw this is so fresh, different energy, different.. Three dancers were beautiful, elegant but it was just three people, but then I have 38 people and I can do a lot of other things. So it was also for me very healthy to go between this and that. It keeps it exciting for me.

In a lot of pieces you worked with a dramaturge. But in some of your recent pieces, you didn’t work with a dramaturge. How do you decide to work with a dramaturge or not?
I prefer, I really like to work with a dramaturge. For instance, in “Shell Shock” I worked with Ruth Little because it was such a big work and she is incredible into advising me to go into certain directions or listen to certain things; we were looking up certain things. I prefer when I have the possibility. Sometimes the time is too short, sometimes it’s also finding the right person for the project... And it’s also the finances; it’s expensive.
Sometimes the people say “you can dance, why do you need”, but it’s important to have this feedback, and it’s important to feel, you know, like a team. It’s very very healthy, so I can advise every choreographer to develop things with different dramaturges; I think it’s also really important to change.  And may be you find someone you like forever, but in the beginning it’s also good to try to find your voice and relationship to the function of the dramaturge. If you know how to work together, it’s very exciting for you, also for the dramaturge. It is really fascinating.
Ruth Little has worked with Akram Khan, then she worked with me, and I know it’s very different, also the result that comes out is also very different.

In “Babel” you worked with Fahrettin Yarkın as musical counselor. And in one part there is the rhythm of the tariqah rituals, ziqr. And one of part of the “In memoriam” the choreography seems like inspired by the whirling dervishes. Do you think of making collaboration or working with a Turkish company or Turkish artists?
It would be wonderful, it would be very very exciting. I think I need to understand much more all the different communities in Istanbul or in Turkey in general. When we meet with Fahrettin we came with Damien and we meet many different musicians in Turkey. And it was very exciting because we went to gypsies neighborhood where they are playing and then we went to a place where there was a one man talking and everybody was sitting down and listening to, like some sort of almost like a guru, but not guru, somebody like a person who has the wisdom that people come for and later their will be a dervish evening; so it was very fascinating.
When I came here, it was back in 2009, I was really intrigued by the different elements; it's the elements that I don’t know could be  together. I grew up with Morocco and I grew up with Belgium and I grew up with certain things that are divided; here in Istanbul it’s incredibly rich; of course for you, it’s your culture but for me it’s look like a patchwork of a lot of elements; it’s very very colorful and very powerful. I think it needs a bit more research before you can anything meaningful; I need to put it together a little bit more. But I’ll be very open, I mean some friends, dancers also from Turkey and I find it very powerful culture; because it’s like European but it’s not, and it’s Arabic but it’s not at all, you know I mean, that the Islam that is here, the way it is lived is so different from the Islam I’m used to it in Morocco or Islam in Bangladesh, Islam in India. There is a lot more to discover. And also it was fascinating yesterday, the Day of Labor here; the political impact and also the relationship to the president or to what ever, is very powerful; I have more questions than answers. I’m really fascinated by it. May be and probably one day, I think something will definitely come.
What I’m doing I’m definitely keep on researching Sufism. For me this is something to develop deeper, to understand Sufism, because I believe in movement and I think in one of the Islam’s that I have learned, because I did some research around it but I’m not a scholar, but there is different layers of Islam and one of them is Ahsan. Ahsan is really devotion in a physical way to god. It means dancing for spiritual connection with the divine, and I think that this is very interesting for me because it’s above Islam; so actually it is more important than Islam; to be physically connected to god and I think this says everything about contemporary dance or any form of dance as being, even in a religious context, especially the religion, I’m talking about the people that follow this religion, has been trying to push away the body and push away the movement. Actually it is important to say that it is the base of your religion is the movement. And to come back to this I would like to eventually get to this, may be something I do when I’m 50. I need a wide kind of mind frame and the right people around to push me in this direction. It is too early but it is definitely something that I’m very attracted to experiment and explore.

 Myth
(Photo: Koen Broos)

In most of your pieces, you use live music; mostly traditional music, medieval songs. The dancers are even singing, also you sing during the performance;
and also the singers became part of your choreography, sometimes they dance also (as in “Foi”, “Myth”, “Tempus fugit”). Would you please explain this passion of yours to singing?
I think that this is just another way of expressing yourself. When I was a child I was a frustrated musician. I wanted to be a musician but because I was not so good in the coordination with the instrument I was better with my body, I ended up with the dance. But still a part of me always wants to go back to the music. I think that the voice is a choreography, I mean when you are using your pallet and your throat, it’s a movement, it’s a dance if you do this choreography correctly you can create sound and you can sing and everybody can sing.
What I like most about singing is more than singing alone is the harmonies which is very difficult but really beautiful when it works. I’m most interested in harmonizing with other and finding a voice that is in tune with someone else’s voice and I think for me singing was more about singing with someone than singing alone. Singing alone came later. In the beginning of my career when I started to use voice in 2000, like 15 years ago, I was always singing with other people. In “D’avant” with Juan, Damien and Luke it was all about finding our voices in tune with each other; and it’s very fragile, it doesn't work all the time but this was the work, is to try, to tune into each other. And when it does work, it is very very beautiful. That’s kind of like what I keep on being interested in singing because I can sing with another voice and especially when it is not with the same but when we are harmonizing, so when it is a quintet, quartet or trio; like different intervals, if then you can find each other, I think, the feeling is incredible.

Do you think of making a choreography for Stravinski’s “Le sacre du printemps”?
May be one day, yes… Again, one of these things; we recently did “Bolero” with Damien Jalet in Opera National de Paris. 

We saw it in Paris.
Oh, you went to Paris, great. Which day did you go? On the premiere or one of the ten shows? Did you see James danced, because one of our dancers had to jump in, the blond dancer? Because one of them is injured and he jumped in, and think but it must have been beautiful, but I didn’t see also.
It was very nice for us to work on this theme and also to work with Marina Abromovic, it was a very funny experience. And I would like to do this again, one day.
Giving some time, I think, it’s nice not too fast and to soon…

Also may be Gluck’s “Orpheus and Eurydice”?
There is lots of things that I think now I’m working with the opera house would be interesting to …

It would a nice opportunity for you..
to explore that part.. 
I was against it, you know, when I began my career as a choreographer I never do the classics ever, I never gonna do the Swan Lake; and now with time, hmm ok. But I just wanna do it differently. So for example with “Bolero” it was important, the one of Béjart is one dancer and everybody around. And Damien and I, no, we want to really everybody equally importance and finding, may be one person has solo but around him just as interesting as stars. And because in French we say “l’étoile” like the star of ballet. So we said ok, you are an l’étoile but he also an l’étoile and you have to be like in the sky. Everybody shines the same. Stars are next to each other, so if you are a real star, you know that there is other stars. They understood the concept and they dance but it was very difficult for them because they used to have more focus on them, so suddenly it became it could be you, and you, and you. And it was also less enough to understand the concept of shining. If you really shine you don’t worry about somebody else’s shining; if you really shining, you are happy. But if you think that you shine less. This is a kind of thing we are very allergic to. Damien and me, we are very much trying to create something more democratic, but it is not easy in the ballet world, but we try.
So may be “Le sacre” one day…

You should do it.
I promise one day…

 Le cap des tempêtes (1945)
René Magritte

One last thing; When I was in Antwerp to watch “Myth” six years ago, I also visited Fine Arts Museum and I saw there a painting of René Magritte: “Le cap des tempêtes”. I don't know if you know it.
I don't know it. Oh, waw. Yeh, like “Sutra”…

As if you or Antony Gormley must have been inspired by this painting in the working process of “Sutra”.
No, no… but it is very very suprising, interesting. I should send it to him. He’ll like it also...

That’s all, thank you very much.


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