Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui Dancers Explore Religious Texts

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Various Composers, Apocrifu: Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, La Monnaie | De Munt, Festival de danse de Cannes, Southbank Centre (Queen Elizabeth Hall), London, 24.1.2014 (JO’D)

Sidi Larbi
Dimitri Jourde,
Yasuyuki Shuto

A Filetta (Jean-Claude Acquaviva, François ‘Ceccè’ Acquaviva, François Aragni, Paul Giansily, Stéphane Serra, Jean Sicurani, Maxime Vuillamer

Choreographer: Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui
Set: Herman Sorgeloos
Lighting: Luc Schaltin (concept), Willy Cessa (revival)
Costumes: Dries Van Noten
Bunraku puppet: Filip Peeters
Assistant choreographer: Satoshi Kudo, Nienke Reehorst (Brussels)


One of the most loudly-applauded sections of Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s ‘m¡longa’ at Sadler’s Wells last November was that performed by three male dancers (two older, one younger). This combination is used again, over an extended period, in Apocrifu. Here, one of the older men is the choreographer himself, the other a ‘contemporary dancer and circus artist’, Dimitri Jourde. The third younger man is a classical dancer from the Ballet of Tokyo, Yasuyuki Shuto. The piece ‘explores’ apocryphal religious texts. What happens on the stage is the interplay between the three men, their different styles of movement and the way in which Larbi Cherkaoui exploits these. The presence of the choreographer increases the personal aspect of the work. It is too long (seventy-five minutes), and repetitive towards the end, but it contains moments of powerful emotional content and haunting visual impact.

The piece first comes to life when, after making their appearance separately, the men line up, one behind the other, with copies of the sacred texts of Christianity, Islam and Judaism. Holding these up in front of their own and each other’s faces, they become first of all confused, then frustrated, then finally unable to read at all. The choreographer then begins to speak. I had begun to think that words and dance did not mix, but the rapidly-delivered words of this single spoken passage are clear and concise. ‘These stories do not come from God,’ Larbi Cherkaoui concludes; ‘they are written by Man.’ As if to demonstrate his rejection of them, he goes from banging a copy of one of the texts against his forehead until the skin reddens, to striking its cover, once, with his fist.

It is at this point that a fourth ‘performer’ is introduced: a grey-suited, smaller-than-life puppet whose head and limbs the three dancers, between them, manipulate. The figure, it would appear, of an old man, this puppet seems to represent a frowning Father, or perhaps Law-maker, who is now pleased, now angry. He looks on as Larbi Cherkaoui removes Dimitri Jourde’s shirt and paints words or symbols in thick, black ink on his circus artist’s body. As he does this, Yasuyuki Shuto executes classical arabesques and pirouettes around them. The duet that Cherkaoui and Jourde then perform is the central section of the work. Similar to that danced by the nymph and the faun in ‘Faun’, and also to that of the two contemporary dancers in ‘m¡longa’, it sees the two men almost become one as they roll around and over each other’s bodies. If, as a choreographer, Cherkaoui asks for movement that is fluid, Jourde responds by seeming to pour himself over the floor of the stage. At the moment of greatest intimacy the two men suddenly pull away from one another (or are thrust by an external force) to the greatest possible distance. Jourde disappears into the wings; Cherkaoui lies twitching.

The buff-coloured set, by Herman Sorgeloos, makes good use of height and depth. The grey suits and white shirts, by Dries Van Noten, are extremely well-cut from expensive fabric. An all-male, vocal ensemble, A Filetta (whose dark forms disappear behind their voices), provides on-stage musical accompaniment.

John O’Dwyer