Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui on the set of "Zero Degrees."

Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, a rising star on Europe's avant-garde dance scene, is sipping apple juice at a picnic table outside a pub and talking about "Zero Degrees."



LONDON — Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, a rising star on Europe’s avant-garde dance scene, is sipping apple juice at a picnic table outside a pub and talking about “Zero Degrees,” a show he premiered here last July that’s just moved to Theatre de Ville in Paris, where it will play through Sunday.

“My work often starts with interviewing people, asking them to tell me about their lives,” explains the pale-faced 28-year-old Belgian-Moroccan. “With each performance I try to find the story in the characters, the dancers I’m working with. I like the idea of personal experience. There’s truth in it. And most of the time, your personal stories are truly universal.”

The seed of “Zero Degrees,” for instance, was Cherkaoui videotaping his partner in the show, British-Bangladeshi dancer Akram Khan, on a train trip Khan made a few years back from India to Bangladesh. It resonated, Cherkaoui thinks, because it dealt with Khan’s panic and feelings of helplessness after a guard took his passport and he saw a dead man on the train.

Blurring the boundaries of dance and blending mediums is Cherkaoui’s signature. “Zero Degrees” also called on the talents of sculptor Antony Gormley, who built replica dummies of the dancers that they used on stage. The story is told not only through traditional movement but also through speech and singing.

Thin to the point of boniness, Cherkaoui, in his baggy street clothes, doesn’t appear a powerful dancer. But he dispels that impression when he takes to the stage, unfurling formidable talents for movement and capturing emotion in unexpected ways.

“People often ask me, do you dance, do you sing, or do you do visual arts?” says Cherkaoui. “For me, there’s no separation. I use whatever works. So if an idea needs to be sung, I will sing. If I need to speak, I’ll say it. And if I need to move, that’s what I’m going to do.”

He came to dance “through impatience,” he says. “I was drawing a lot and I was never satisfied with the result. When I saw dance on television, I knew it’s what I had to do. I like the immediacy it has. In dance I’m drawing in three dimensions.”

This story first appeared in the October 14, 2005 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Next, the ambitious dancer is off to Monte Carlo, where he’ll work from January to April on an original production with the Monaco Ballet. Last year, he worked with the troupe on a production that included costumes by Dior Homme designer Hedi Slimane. This time around Chanel’s Karl Lagerfeld will outfit Cherkaoui’s troupe.

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