From Beyoncé to Broadway; Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui Is Conquering The Dance World

by Michael Mahany | 11/22/2019 4:08 PM

The cast of ‘Jagged Little Pill’ in their out of town engagement at ART in Cambridge, MA. Photo credit: Evgenia Eliseeva.

The Alanis Morissette musical, ‘Jagged Little Pill’ — based on the seven-time Grammy-winning artist’s double-diamond selling album from 1995 — has finally made its way to Broadway this season after a successful out of town tryout at American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge, MA last summer. While the album on which the musical is based may be immediately recognizable to, well, almost anyone, the artist charged with the musical’s choreography  Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui — is a name new to many theatre dance fans. 

It turns out, though, that while Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui's name might be new to many here in the states, the choreographer has been both provoking and electrifying audiences around the world for 20 years. And, there’s actually a pretty good chance you’ve already seen some of his work.

The award-winning Cherkaoui was born in Belgium in 1976 where he worked as a young dancer on television and in variety shows. He seemingly began more formal training, however, when he began studying at P.A.R.T.S. — the Brussels based contemporary school founded by fellow Belgian born dancer and choreographer, Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker. 

(De Keersmaeker, by the way, is the choreographer responsible for the 2020 revival of ‘West Side Story’ on Broadway. She’s also the first dance creator charged with building new choreography to replace that of Jerome Robbins’ original iconic choreography. Robbins’ original movement has been restaged in every Broadway production of the musical since it was first seen on the Great White Way in 1957.)

More: New Interview Sparks New (& Resurges Old) Controversies At 'West Side Story'

While training at P.A.R.T.S., Cherkaoui built a foundational technique and movement vocabulary in the contemporary styles of choreographers like William Forsythe, Pina Bauch, Tricia Brown, and of course, De Keersmaeker herself.

In 1999, Cherkaoui made his choreographic debut when he created the movement to the musical ‘Anonymous Society’ by Andrew Wade.

After years creating work with Les Ballets C de la B (where he met his artistic partner Damien Jalet) and working as an associate artist at the Toneelhuis Theatre in Antwerp, Belgium, Cherkaoui was able to create his own dance company, Eastman, in January of 2010.

“Cherkaoui’s work provides the audience with a vast array of projects and collaborations," Eastman’s site reads, "ranging from contemporary dance, theatre, ballet, opera, musical and other forms of performance.”

More: Tiffany Mills Company Premieres ‘Not then, not yet’ At The Flea

Over his career, Cherkaoui “has made over 50 full-fledged choreographic pieces and picked up a slew of awards, including two Olivier Awards, three Ballet Tanz awards for best choreographer (2008, 2011, 2017) and the Kairos Prize (2009) for his artistic vision and his quest for intercultural dialogue.”

Cherkaoui picked up his first Olivier Award for ‘Babel(words)’ — his 2010 collaboration with Damien Jalet. His second, he won in 2012, for his choreography of the piece, ‘Puz/zle’.

Excepts from Cherkaoui’s Olivier winning piece, 'Babel(words)'. Video courtesy: Eastman.

Cherakaoui is also renowned for his choreography of the 2012 film ‘Anna Karenina’ which starred Kira Knightly and Jude Law.

And, quite notably, in 2017, Cherkaoui met and worked with Beyoncé’s lead choreographers Chris Grant and JaQuel Knight on Queen Bey’s nine-minute long “Lemonade” medley performance at the Grammy’s that year. Cherkaoui also worked again with Knight and Grant again as a co-choreographer on the Carter’s 2018 MTV VMA nominated “Apesh*t” video as well as served as an advisor on the 2018 ‘On The Run II’ tour.

Side note — having now worked with Beyoncé fairly extensively, Cherkaoui was asked in an interview with Pitchfork what his favorite of Beyoncé’s performance was. His response, “The ‘Single Ladies’ video, definitely. It's just perfect.”…

… well, awesomely enough, Ebony Williams, one of the two dancers who appeared with Bey in the “Single Ladies…” video, is in the cast of Broadway’s ‘Jagged Little Pill’.

More: JaQuel Knight Continues His "Rain" At The Top With Latest Video

The Cherakaoui, Grant, & Knight co-choreographed video “Apesh*t” featuring the Carters. Video courtesy: Beyoncé/Youtube.

When Tony-winning director Diane Paulus tapped Cherkaoui for ‘Jagged Little Pill’, however, the choreographer seemingly found himself moving into uncharted waters. Not only would the project bring Cherkaoui to Broadway for the first time, but it would also be his first contemporary American musical. And one, on whose source material — Alanis Morissette’s iconic ‘Jagged Little Pill’ — lay the soundtrack of a generation.

Though a Broadway musical based on a pop/rock album might be something new for Cherkaoui, according to ‘Jagged Little Pill’ cast member, Laurel Harris, Broadway’s newest choreographer is taking to the boards perfectly.

The cast of ‘Jagged Little Pill’ sings “You Learn” in a video detailing its history. Video courtesy: JLP

“Larbi is a dream to work with,” Harris told Dance Network. “He thrives on collaboration and is always open to having a conversation about the interpretation and intention behind his movement.”

While Cherkaoui’s movement may conceptual in nature, his choreography seems to live deeply in its ability to further the plot.

“I appreciate how his choreography tells a story and deepens the overall arch of the show,” Harris said. “Everything is created with great care and meticulous thought.”

“He is a true genius,” Harris continued, “and I’ve learned so much watching him and listening to his thoughts off and on stage. His calming energy is infectious and his heart fully present at every moment.”

More: Eight 'SYTYCD' Choreographers Who’ve Made A Splash On Broadway

‘Jagged Little Pill features Elizabeth Stanley, Derek Klena, Sean Allan Krill, Kathryn Gallagher, Lauren Patten, Celia Rose Gooding, Antonio Cipriano, Annelise Baker, Yeman Brown, Jane Bruce, John Cardoza, Ken Wulf Clark, Laurel Harris, Logan Hart, Zach Hess,

Max Kumangai, Heather Lang, Ezra Menas, Kelsey Orem, Yana Perrault, Nora Schell, Kei Tsuruharatani, and Ebony Williams.

Michael Mahany serves as Dance Network’s New York correspondent. He is also a professional actor, singer, dancer who appears nightly in the 10th Anniversary production of Rock Of Ages in New York City as well as a co-host of the Pod De Deux dance podcast. Follow him on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook.

Keep Reading