Within the framework of visual culture and especially in the field of dance, Unclosed section “Action/Gesture. Dance, body, movement”, proposes interviews with choreographers, dancers, and scholars.
Our first interview is with Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, one of the most appreciated choreographer on the international scene, whose work is profoundly nurtured by the merging of various cultures and different artistic points of view. Since his debut in 1999 the Flemish-Moroccan choreographer, based in his native Antwerp, has developed an intense dialogue with several dance and visual art languages (ballet, contemporary dance, flamenco, tango, opera, theatre) adopting a non-hierarchical approach to movement and body language. In particular, he created some works in collaboration with the English sculptor Antony Gormley (Sutra at Sadler’s Wells in 2008 in collaboration with the Shaolin monks (fig. 1), and Babel (words) in 2010 with co-choreographer Damien Jalet (fig. 2 ); and, in 2011, inspired by the master of Japanese manga, Osamu Tezuka, he created TeZukA (fig. 3).
He is also inspired by the power of music and singing, which are usually strongly present in his performances, springing from the most diverse cultures: oriental and occidental as well as contemporary and ancient.
In 2010 Cherkaoui launched his new company Eastman, resident at deSingel International Arts Campus in Antwerp. He is also the artistic director of the Festival “Equilibrio. Festival della nuova danza” in Rome, where in February he presented for the first time in Italy Genesis (fig. 4), created in Beijing as a collaboration between the Eastman company and the famous chinese choreographer and dancer Yabin Wang, thus confirming his constant dialogue with artists coming from different cultures and traditions.
We met Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, who kindly answered a few questions about the relationships between visual art and dance, introduced by a “Premise” which is the starting point for a discussion on this subject.
Through art history we can learn from which cultures stemmed the different styles and aesthetic ideas that had an influence on dance. Visual aspects of dance have always had cultural and aesthetic links to the world of art through common aesthetic models; in modern and contemporary dance these links have become closer and closer as the boundaries between visual and performing arts have increasingly blurred.
Furthermore, visual arts can provide a ‘dynamic’ learning by stimulating the neuronal responses that images activate in our brain, and provoking a potential movement. Through the sight, as neuroscience has proved, the whole body is involved in a physical experience. By observing an art work, we can ‘enter’ in it; its dynamics, its energy resound and pervade our body.
NG Which has been the role played by visual arts in your education?
SLC Like so many children I started drawing before I could write, at a very early stage I felt it was a very natural way of expressing myself.
I would draw the world around me, whatever would be seen, would be drawn.
In my formative years I kept developing my skills as a drawer and even went to evening classes of art school for a while, in order to further develop my skills. Even though my general education was mostly mathematics and languages, deep down it was art that seduced me most of all, it was the place I felt most at home. It still is.
NG Does visual arts play a specific role in your works, not only concerning the scenography but also the way bodies perform?
SLC I always feel that my skills as a choreographer and as a dancer were an extension of my skills as a drawer. When moving and dancing, we create circles and lines and curves and volumes, which are naturally related to organic geometry, so I do feel my dancing is nothing more than an extension of that drawing talent. Even when placing performers or dancers on sage, their bodies themselves function like characters in a painting or a comic book, so even there, as dance/theatre characters, one could make a link with visual arts.
NG Do you think visual arts should be taught in Dance Conservatories/Schools?
SLC I've never thought of that, but I think it's an excellent idea! When working in Japan, I was developing a piece based on the works of manga artist Osamu Tezuka, using his drawings and work as scenography. In this project I also invited a calligrapher, it was amazing to see how close his grace and movement skills were to the ones of a dancer. His delicate motion full of control and serenity, without losing direction and focus, actually inspired a lot of the dancers to move differently. I was really struck by how calligraphy and dance had so much in common, so your question makes a lot of sense to me. For some, learning to draw beyond your own body limits, could be a revelation and a way to expand their skills as dancers.
NG Do you think visual arts can help in widening the imagery and the freedom of dancers and choreographer? In which way?
SLC I think there's the fact that, by being exposed to visual arts, dancers can be inspired to move in certain ways, see and reflect the world differently. But also, when working in a certain environment, if we create a certain set design or scenography, we can also influence the way dancers think or move or look, purely by transforming the environment they are in. I'm used to work often with Antony Gormley, a visual artist from the UK, he often offers me a world to delve into, like the wooden blocks/boxes he created in my work Sutra. In this piece the Shaolin monks/performers and me restructure the space in many different set ups, and it constantly changes the way we look at the movement on stage. But also, we make the set dance, so it could also be seen that the choreography creates the visual art; it's influencing each other in both ways.
NG Do you have any comments about the premise and the idea that introducing art history in the learning path of dancers might improve their education?
SLC The problem with the word "history" and "education" is that in every single culture it is referred to differently. I remember having been educated in art history in a certain way in Belgium, but then realized much later that there was a lot of dogma's being transmitted about value beauty etc, that were very different from American or Japanese education: eventually it made me very attentive to its use and misuse, we all value similar things, but we do so differently. In many ways it all ends up being a form of , for lack of a better word, propaganda, either people get overwhelmed or discouraged or indoctrinated in a single worldview, they feel included or excluded in it as artists, but also as human beings.
So it's to me a complicated premise.
On the other side, if one is able to contextualize and see the bigger picture and how dance and art fit into the bigger scheme of life, it can be very inspiring and helpful and actually create and give a strong boost to your visions.
Anyway, let's just say there can never be too much education, art history will of course, if taught wisely and inclusively, help you see more possibilities for your dance art.
English text edited by Paola Fogarizzu