Born in Belgium in 1976, the young choreographer and dancer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s career has recently gathered an extraordinary momentum. Separating from his mentoring dance company Les Ballets C de la B, he begun running his own troupe, touring with Akram Khan in their acclaimed duet, Zero Degrees, and choreographing for esteemed dance companies in the US and Europe.
But with success also brought creative fatigue, so Cherkaoui took pause and headed to China where he found inspiration in the remote mountain temple of the Shaolin monks. This experience spawned the acclaimed performance Sutra in collaboration with a troupe of Shaolin monks and visual artist Anthony Gormley, and currently being performed at the New Zealand International Arts Festival in Wellington.
What inspired you most as a young dancer, and has this continued on into your choreography work?
As a kid I adored Kate Bush, I remember relating to the way she moved when she sang. She was going with the flow of her voice. I still think she is one of the greatest artists of our time; so in tune with something natural, organic and honest. I started dancing quite late, at the age of 16 or 17 after I was already at art school. I think movement was waiting to be exploring.
Do you relish the opportunity to draw from disparate cultural sources when choreographing?
When I grew up one of my biggest idols next to Kate Bush was Bruce Lee, he was in many ways one of the few actors who was very physical. I could see someone who understood the energy. He wasn’t the regular kind of white man actor. But he was a star and quite sexy in the way he would talk about things in a mystical sense. When I started to dance, martial arts struck me as a form I could relate to. The art embraces animal movements, which are so graceful. Very good ballet dancers move like animals, eagles or tigers for example. They are the ones who are organic and true.
What have you learned from the Shaolin monks and how has this informed your practice?
While at the monastery I realised the monks continued the tradition and the philosophy of their teachings for the sake of heritage not their own agenda. Their bodies are thankful for this knowledge. They are vehicles, who let things pass through them but do not hold onto it.