As a child the Flemish-Moroccan Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui (Antwerp, 1976) wanted to draw the real world. But when the two dimensions of pen and paper no longer sufficed he began – inspired by Michael Jackson – to dance. For a short while he appeared as a dancer in variety shows and television programmes. After this he chose to study at P.A.R.T.S, the dance education school of the famous Flemish choreographer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker in Brussels. Here he came into contact both with the work of grand masters such as William Forsythe, Pina Bausch and Trisha Brown and with urban dance styles. In 1995 he won the ‘Prize for the best Belgian dance solo’ in Ghent, created on the initiative of the choreographer Alain Platel.
In 1999 Cherkaoui made his first choreography, Anonymous Society, and immediately won various international awards with this. In 2000 he received the Special Prize at the BITEF Festival in Belgrade for Rien de Rien, his first creation for Alain Platel’s company Les Ballets C de la B. Since then Cherkaoui has built up an extensive oeuvre which investigates and questions various cultures and their traditions in a highly personal and idiosyncratic manner.
Cherkaoui excels in capturing tricky themes such as otherness, collectivity, the search for identity, faith and desire in impressive stories, realised in a poetic and often hypnotic dance style. In an interview he once described himself as an ‘adapting sponge’ because he ‘sucks up’ many different dance forms, connects them together and in each production responds flexibly to the qualities of his dancers and dance partners – be these a female Spanish flamenco dancer, a Swedish contortionist, an Indian Kathak dancer, a Chinese Shaolin monk or Argentinian tango dancers.
Cherkaoui has worked for many renowned dance companies and theatres, including Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo, the Grand Théâtre de Genève, the Swedish Cullberg Ballet, the Royal Danish Ballet, Het Nationale Ballet and De Munt in Brussels, and he has a firm commitment to Sadler’s Wells in London. In 2009 Introdans Ensemble for Youth was the first Dutch company to receive permission to perform one of his works: an excerpt from his widely praised choreography In Memoriam. Currently Cherkaoui makes most of his productions for his own company Eastman, with which he is achieving worldwide success. Furthermore Cherkaoui assumed the role of artistic director at the Royal Ballet of Flanders in 2015.
Moreover in 2012 he provided the choreography for Anna Karenina, the film directed by Joe Wright and starring Keira Knightley and Jude Law.
In addition he recently created the choreography for the latest video by Beyoncé and Jay-Z: Apeshit and the choreography in the Flemish film Girl.
Cherkaoui has won numerous important international dance awards, including the Prix Nijinsky, the German Kairos Prize (for his artistic vision and quest for cultural dialogue), a Sir Laurence Olivier Award (together with his colleague dancer/choreographer Damien Jalet) and the Benois de la Danse award (the ‘Dance Oscar’). In 2011 UNESCO honoured him as a ‘Young Artist for Intercultural Dialogue between Arab and Western Worlds’.