Sidi larbi cherkaoui + Damien Jalet

SEPT. 29. 30. OCT. 1. 2011 – 8 p.m.


“I remain amazed at Cherkaoui’s remarkable capacity to blend transcendent spirituality and wholesome earthiness, to challenge the mind while engaging the emotions, and to deal with grand themes without the slightest hint of pretension or pomposity.” (britishtheatreguide.info)

After delighting Montreal audiences with Sutra and Loin (Ballet du Grand Théâtre de Genève), Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui is back with Babel(words), the conclusion to a triptych about a quest for identity and for the divine that began with Foi (2003) and then Myth (2007), both of which were presented by Danse Danse. With his talented accomplices, the choreographer Damien Jalet and the visual artist Antony Gormley (Sutra), Cherkaoui seizes this pre-eminent symbol of chaos to illustrate its potential for harmony. With a cast that is a veritable chorus of nations – 18 dancers and musicians representing 13 countries and 7 religions – “his” Babel(words) is also a tower of splendid music ranging from Japanese percussion to harp, by way of polyphonic Medieval chants (the magnificent Patrizia Bovi and Christine Leboutte) and the rhythms of India and the Middle East. In an era torn between globalization and nationalist fervour, Babel(words) has the appeal of something that comes just at the right moment […] the force of a poetic manifesto […] with intelligent hybridity its banner.” (Le Temps, Geneva)

“Here, with Jalet, Cherkaoui takes that one step farther, into the very building blocks of our humanity. […] If there is one defining message it is that the non-verbal level, the point at which bodies speak truer than words, is our one authentic avenue of communication. Dance, for all its stylistic hues, is more potent than dialogue.”  (thetime.co.uk)


Making its début in April 2010 at Cirque Royal (La Monnaie) in Brussels, Babel(words) begins with the story from the Book of Genesis, at the very moment where God decides to punish the men who, bloated with pride, seek to build a tower with its top in the heavens, the mythic Tower of Babel. To dash their hopes and destroy their tower, he introduces several languages into a previously unilingual group. Lack of mutual comprehension thus leads to chaos and discord.

Babel (Word)  

photo © Koen Broos, Dancers, Back, from left to right: Navala Chaudhari, Francis Ducharme,
Moya Michael; 2nd row : Ulrika Kinn Svensson. Front : Kazutomi Kozuki


The choreographers Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Damien Jalet (who had previously worked together on Foi and Myth) have assembled an international cast for the piece. From this sampling of identities and cultures, they created a work where, in the words of the Babel(words) dramaturge Lou Cope, “language is both verbal and physical, where it unites and divides, makes communication both possible and impossible, and is loaded with meaning at the same time as being profoundly meaningless. […] Indeed Cherkaoui and Jalet’s journey was informed by their own profound ‘belief in the belief that something matters’ and their joint search for what that something might be. During the process the show revealed to its makers that what they were doing was turning the Tower of Babel upside down: what mattered was not the external multiplicity of our (regional, spiritual, linguistic, physical) differences, but the underlying bond of what unites rather than divides us, and therefore the responsibilities we all share.” Babel(words) is well served by the set design of Antony Gormley, whose inventive boxes for Sutra were much admired. His three-dimensional aluminum frameworks are transformed from one scene to the next, sometimes representing geopolitical divisions, at other times private, intimate territory. These structures are slipped into each other, stacked together and manipulated by the performers into all sorts of spaces and objects – a spinning top, passport control, a place of refuge.

“I was in awe… of the ingenuity of Antony Gormley’s concept of those five aluminum transparent ‘boxes’. It felt as if I was watching somebody playing with a giant Rubik’s cube. Each time the dancers came up with new shapes and ways to put one box into another.” (utopiaparkway.worldpress.com)

Performed live, the music in Babel(words)is just as important as the movement and the text. Splendid and eclectic, this musical universe includes Medieval polyphonic chants sung by Christine Leboutte and Patrizia Bovi (whose enchanting voice was also head in Myth), traditional Turkish music, Indian music and Japanese kodo drumming.

“They accentuate each movement and propel each scene with a multicultural array of eerie drumming and singing from Patrizia Bovi and Mahabub Khan, in an electic bill ranging from Sufi chants to Japanese percussion.” (Victoria Park, London)

“What we also hear, almost in continuity, are the voices of women, a golden Middle Ages given full expression in songs where sadness becomes sweetness. In response to that flow of sound the five boxes turn, pushed by the dancers and forming a spinning carousel, the very image of harmony.” (Le Temps, Geneva)

Damien Jalet, Co-Choreographer

After studying theatre at INSAS in Brussels, Damien Jalet turned to contemporary dance, which he studied in Belgium and New York. He began his career as a dancer with Wim Vandekeybus (The Day of Heaven and Hell) in 1998. In 2000 he embarked on an intense collaboration with Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and the dance company Les Ballets C. de la B. Together they created Rien de rien (2000), Foi (2003), Tempus Fugit (2004) and Myth (2007). Jalet also co-choreographed D’avant (2002) in conjunction with Cherkaoui, the Quebecer Luc Dunberry and Juan Kruz Diaz de Garaio Esnaola. The piece is part of the repertoire of the company Sasha Waltz & Guests.

In 2005 Damien Jalet co-directed, with Erna Ómarsdóttir and Dumspiro, a short film entitled The Unclear Age. Then, with Erna Ómarsdóttir, Gabriela Fridriksdóttir and Raven, he choreographed Ofaett (Unborn) for the Théâtre National de Bretagne. He and Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui went on to mount a dance event for the festivities in celebration of Belgium’s 175th anniversary. This veritable happening was performed simultaneously in twelve towns across Belgium, attracting 30,000 spectators.

In 2006 Damien Jalet created the duo Aleko for the Museum of Contemporary Art in Aomori, Japan with Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Alexandra Gilbert. He then worked with the theatre director Arthur Nauzyciel and the actress Anne Brochet in a production of Beckett’s L’Image for the celebration of his centenary in Dublin. The play was also presented across Europe and in New York (with the actress Lou Doillon).

The philosopher Giorgio Agemben invited Damien Jalet to create the choreography for a contemporary opera by Stefano Scodanibbio, Il Cielo sulla, for the Staatsoper in Stuttgart. He collaborated with Nick Knight and fashion designer Bernhard Willhelm in 2008 on the video Men in Tights for Willhelm’s 2008-2009 collection. He also choreographed Julius Caesar in Boston and Ordet in Avignon, two works by Nauzyciel.

In March 2008 he presented Three Spells at the Tokyo International Arts Festival, accompanied by the electro-acoustic composer Christian Fennesz performing live. He also assisted Cherkaoui with In Memoriam, presented at Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo, Loin (Ballet du Grand Théâtre de Genève), End (Ballet Cullberg) and Sutra.

In 2009 he performed in Reykjavik in Marie Darrieussecq’s play Le Musée de la mer, directed by Nauzyciel. Working with Erna Ómarsdóttir and the visual artist Gabriela Fridriksdóttir, he co-directed Transaquania Out of the Blue for the Icelandic Dance Company, and Black Marrow with Ómarsdóttir for the Australian company Chunky Move.

Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, Co-Choreographer, artistic director of Eastman vzw

Born in Antwerp in 1976 to a Flemish mother and a Moroccan father, the dancer and choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui created his first dance piece in 1999, Anonymous Society, a “contemporary musical comedy” to the music of Jacques Brel. The production won several prizes, including the Fringe First and Total Theatre awards in Edinburgh, and the Barclay Theatre award in London.

Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui  

photo © Koen Broos


Working with Ballets C. de la B., in 2000 he choreographed Rien de rien, which was presented across Europe and received an award at the BITEF Festival in Belgrade. It was the first time he worked with Damien Jalet, who introduced him to traditional Italian songs, an influence that would continue in his work. The 6 dancers in the piece, ranging in age from 16 to 60, have a thorough command of dance styles and techniques, from ballet to ballroom dancing to the hand gestures that accompany everyday speech. Cherkaoui regards them all as valuable sources for contemporary dance. That eclecticism is well suited to his recurring theme – equality between individuals, cultures, languages and means of expression. Rien de rien went on an extensive tour and in 2002 he received the Nijinski Award in Monte Carlo for most promising choreographer.
In July 2002 he danced at the Avignon Festival in a performance of It directed by Wim Vandekeybus. Inspired by a Paul Bowles short story, It is a dance solo in which each choreographer’s specific language of movement merges with the other.

“Cherkaoui pulls out all the stops. His body seems to become uprooted, unreachable. When his foot touches the back of his head, it is as if the upper part of his body doesn’t know there is also a lower part. The body fights with itself, juggles with the air between his hands, twists itself into a thousand curves.” (De Standaard,  Belgique)

In the autumn of 2002, he and Damien Jalet and a few dancers from the Sasha Waltz company created D’avant for the Schaubühne am Lehniner Platz in Berlin. This very physical show combines medieval songs from the 13th century with contemporary dance in a mosaic of styles, portraying social phenomena such as fanaticism, physical violence and moral apathy in light, relative terms. In March 2003 he again combined dance and singing in Foi, a piece about the nature and power of belief, with 14th century music performed by the Capilla Flamenca ensemble, along with traditional chants sung by Christine Leboutte, Damien Jalet, Joanna Dudley and the dancers. Foi received the Movimentos award in Wolfsburg, Germany and was presented at Danse Danse in May 2003.

At the request of the Avignon Festival, in July 2004 he presented a new project with Les Ballets C. de la B. entitled Tempus Fugit, a piece that called into question the apparent absoluteness of time. People the world over may use the same concepts of time, but time is experienced and interpreted in different ways in different cultures. In Tempus Fugit, 15 performers from every corner of the globe explored their cultural past, each trying to take control of time, which made for very diverse dance rhythms and speeds. The work focused on the relationships between the Mediterranean, Arab and Central African worlds. In December 2004, Cherkaoui presented In Memoriam at Ballets de Monte-Carlo. For the Ballet du Grand Théâtre in Geneva he choreographed Loin. It premiered in April 2005 and was presented at Danse Danse in February 2009.

In 2005 he worked with Akram Khan for the first time. They created and performed zero degrees, which is about the effect of their mixed cultural backgrounds. With set design by Antony Gormley, zero degrees was nominated for the Laurence Olivier Award in 2006 and went on to win two Helpmann Awards in Australia in 2007. For België danst, a special nationwide performance was staged in the open air simultaneously in 12 cities across Belgium on July 16, 2005, with choreography by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and music by Noordkaap and Marie Daulne.

In 2006, the director of Antwerp’s Toneelhuis, Guy Cassiers, invited him to become artist in residence. There he presented Myth in 2007, the second part of his trilogy about the quest for identity and for the divine. It inaugurated the 2008-2009 Danse Danse season. In 2006, Larbi Cherkaoui and Nicolas Vladyslav explored the works of Bach in Corpus Bach, and presented Mea Culpa for the Ballets de Monte-Carlo. Focusing on relations between Europe and Africa, in it Cherkaoui asks questions about life and about his choreography. In August 2006, his piece End had its première at the Gothenburg Theatre and Dance Festival. Made during the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon, it clearly evokes that conflict.

While there is strong demand for pieces from his repertoire, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui often combines them with the presentation of new works. In May 2007, audiences at the new and imposing Copenhagen opera house acclaimed his L’Homme de bois, a piece for 18 dancers of the Royal Danish Ballet performed to the music of Stravinsky. He was one of the artistic collaborators invited by Guy Cassiers to take part in a theatrical journey at the Bourla Theatre inspired by the Julian Barnes book A History of the World in 10½ Chapters. For the Musée de l’immigration in Paris, he worked with the photographer and filmmaker Gilles Delmas on a video installation entitled Zon-Mai. It was in the shape of a house, with the footage projected on the walls and the roof. The performers reveal themselves through dance in the privacy of their own homes.

A piece commissioned by the Théâtre de la Monnaie in Brussels, Apocrifu, premiered in 2007. It is a musical encounter with the Corsican a capella polyphonic singing of A Filetta. The group’s music provides the backdrop for the piece, in which Cherkaoui also dances. In a key scene of Apocrifu, the three dancers take turns as three-headed monsters reading aloud passages from the Talmud, the Koran and the Bible, making it clear that the difference between apocryphal and canonical is more a question of perspective or authority, rather than content or value. He thus treats in a light-hearted manner a broader theme dear to his heart – the intrinsic equality of different cultures and religious viewpoints. That theme is again apparent in the recent production Origine, co-produced by Toneelhuis and Muziekcentrum De Bijloke (Ghent). It premiered in Ghent in January 2008 and featured four dancers – two men and two women from different parts of the world – and the musical group Ensemble Sarband. Once again Cherkaoui adopted an unusual approach to musical tradition in a piece that subtly examines topical political issues. Light-heartedly but unmistakably he touches on themes like immigration, alienation and excessive consumerism, transforming them into an increasingly abstract vocabulary of movement.

Shortly afterward at Sadler’s Wells in London he presented Sutra, in collaboration with the sculptor Antony Gormley, the composer Szymon Brzóska and the monks of the Chinese temple of Shaolin. The show was awarded five stars by The Guardian and The Times and toured Europe and North America before being featured as part of the Danse Danse series in November 2009.
In July 2009, the New York company Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet presented Orbo Novo (New World), to music by Szymon Brzóska. Cherkoui then choreographed Faun, a duet commissioned by Sadler’s Wells, a contemporary vision of Nijinski’s Afternoon of a Faun. He founded a new company, Eastman, in January 2010, which will be in residence at the Toneelhuis until late 2012. There he remounted Foi and created Babel(words).

Cherkaoui was then invited to do the choreography for Wagner’s Das Rheingold, directed by Guy Cassiers and presented at La Scala in Milan and also at the Staatsoper unter den Linden in Berlin. He followed this with Play, a duet that he performed with the incredible Shantala Shivalingappa, a dancer that Danse Danse audiences will have the opportunity of discovering in the 2011-2012 season.

A new version of It It 3.0 – will be presented in April 2011 at the Toneelhuis. The original was created by Cherkaoui and Wim Vandekeybus in 2002. This will be followed in June 2011 by a new piece with the National Ballet of Amsterdam set to music by Szymon Brzóska.

Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui was the recipient of the 2009 Kairos award, granted annually in Hamburg to “creative personalities who give important impulses to art and culture in Europe”.

Antony Gormley

Born in London in 1950, Antony Gormley has been a sculptor for three decades and the recipient of several prestigious awards including the Turner Prize (1994) and an OBE for services to sculpture. His work has been exhibited in a large number of museums and galleries such as the Whitechapel Art Gallery, Tate Gallery, British Museum, White Cube, the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Denmark, Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, the Irish Museum of Modern Art in Dublin, the Kölnischer Kunstverein in Germany, the Venice Biennale, Kassel Documenta 8 and other prestigious institutions in Europe, Scandinavia, Japan and Australia. His works Angel of the North and Quantum Cloud (on the Thames in Greenwich) are among the most famous examples of contemporary English sculpture.

Gormley centres his research on the body as a place of memory and transformation. Departing from the use of traditional materials, he often uses himself as a mould, the plaster cast of his own body then being used to produce a body-cast covered in lead or cast in iron. Starting in the 1990s, his artistic focus expanded to include the human condition, the collective body and the relationship between the self and others, creating large-scale installations such as Allotment, Critical Mass, Another Place, Domain Field, Inside Australia and Blind Light, unveiled at London’s Hayward Gallery in spring 2007.
His recent projects and exhibitions include Event Horizon New York, where his sculptures (bronze silhouettes based on casts of his own body) were scattered throughout Manhattan, often perched as sentinels atop buildings. They caused confusion for some passersby, who mistook them for real people about to commit suicide.

For more information on Antony Gormley, visit www.antonygormley.com.

Lenght 1 h 40

Choreography Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Damien Jalet. Visual Design Antony Gormley. Assistant Choreographer Nienke Reehorst. Costume Design Alexandra Gilbert. Light Design Adam Carrée. Dramaturge Lou Cope. Performed by Navala Chaudhari, Francis Ducharme, Darryl E. Woods, Damien Fournier, Ben Fury, Paea Leach, Christine Leboutte, Ulrika Kinn Svensson, Kazutomi Kozuki, Sandra Delgadillo Porcel (Moya Michael), Igal Furman (Helder Seabra), Mohamed Toukabri (Jon Filip Fahlstrom), Paul Zivkovich (James O'Hara). Music by Patrizia Bovi, Mahabub Khan, Sattar Khan, Gabriele Miracle and Kazunari Abe (Shogo Yoshii).Traditional Turkish Musical Counsellor Fahrettin Yarkin. Technicians Sharp, Bert Van Dijck, Bart Van Hoydonck (SLP), Mathias Batsleer (SLP), Jens Drieghe (SLP), Kim Rens (SLP). Dresser Elisabeth Kinn Svensson. Production Manager Maarten Verbeuren. Tour Manager Sofie De Schutter. Production Assistant Lies Doms. Executive Director Karen Feys.

With thanks to Asano Taiko (Japan), Marek Pomocki, Seniz Karaman, Raad van Bestuur (Eastman), De munt, Lise Uytterhoeven, Assaf Hochman, Casey Spooner, Alistair Wilson (Push 4), Antony Gormley studios, Juliette Van Peteghem, Milan “Mino” Herich, Sven Bahat, Hisashi Itoh, Kodo Ensemble (Melanie Taylor), Rakesh Mps, Karthika Nair, Frederick Verrote.

Production Eastman vzw and Theatre royal de la Monnaie.Co-producers Fondation d'entreprise Hermès, Etablissement Public du Parc et de la Grande Halle de la Villette (Paris), Sadler’s Wells (London), Theaterfestival Boulevard (Den Bosch, the Netherlands), Festspielhaus (St. Pölten), Grand Théâtre of Luxembourg, International Dance festival Switzerland - Migros Culture Percentage, Fondazione Musica per Roma (Rome) and the Ludwigsburger Schlossfestspiele (Allemagne). Babel (words)  is co-commissioned by Dash Arts 2010 programme on Arabic Arts.

Eastman vzw is company in residence at Toneelhuis (Antwerp), works in association with international arts campus deSingel (Antwerp) and is supported by Asano Taiko (Japan). With support from the Garrick Charitable Trust and the Flemish authorities.