Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s Talent for Collaboration Pays Off With a Tony Nod

Not so long ago, it might have been difficult to imagine the worlds of Broadway and European dance merging in any significant way. But nestled among this year’s Tony Award nominees is Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, the artistic director of the Royal Ballet of Flanders, in Belgium, who is known for skillfully bridging disparate artistic spheres.

He was selected for his choreographic contribution to “Jagged Little Pill,” a musical inspired by Alanis Morissette’s 1995 alt-pop opus of the same name. The show, which opened on Broadway in December, led the way with nominations this year, garnering 15 in total. From Italy, where he is working on a film project, Cherkaoui shared his thoughts about cross-genre collaboration, the future of “Jagged Little Pill” and how the performing arts can return safely. Below are edited excerpts from the conversation.

Where were you when you heard the news?

I was in the middle of shooting, actually. I’m here for a movie in Italy, [“Cyrano,”] the next movie of Joe Wright, who I worked with on “Anna Karenina.” I saw it on social media and got really, really happy. It’s a huge honor. I am still trying to process it. So I’m seeing, like, what does this mean? How does this come together at the same time we are in such a sad state? It’s a very strange time to be celebrating.

“Jagged Little Pill” is obviously not your first foray outside of the dance world. How does your experience with Broadway stack up to collaborating with Wright and Keira Knightley on “Anna Karenina” or working on music videos with Beyoncé?

What I love about all these people I’ve been blessed to work with is that they are so concerned with finding a truthful way to convey a message. I was and I am a huge fan of Alanis. It was one of those projects that was very easy to say yes to because I knew all her music, I had all her CDs at home.

What I loved about this project specifically was the content of the story, the content of the music, the diversity of the cast, the concept of speaking about very difficult issues with humor and at the same time being poignant when necessary — not being shy of addressing things that are very difficult to discuss. There’s something quite bold about it. Coming from a contemporary dance world that’s more like theater dance, I am quite excited every time there’s something really being spoken of that will create, maybe, a shift in peoples’ way of thinking.

Do you have any future Broadway plans that you can share?

Not yet. As everything is a bit on hold, it becomes quite hard. I’m kind of looking forward to when “Jagged Little Pill” can play again, because we’ve had the blessing of being able to perform a couple of months, but that’s not nearly enough. I’m going to be very simple about it and just hope that we can bring the show back. Right now I’m mainly working on “Cyrano.” It’s also a form of musical, but in a movie form. Next year I might do something in Paris, “Starmania,” which is also a musical. We were supposed to premiere it now, in this period, but everything got postponed because of the coronavirus.

Performing arts seem to have bounced back more quickly in Europe than in the United States. What do you think is holding us back here?

I think it’s space. I think the coronavirus is a simple thing actually. In the sense that it’s a virus, it’s very complicated but it’s also very simple. The problem is that if you are in a venue where everybody’s stuck together really closely and there’s no ventilation, it’s very complicated. We’ve been lucky that some theaters are really big in Europe where you can place people very far from each other. And I think that’s what we need right now against the coronavirus, giving more space to our audience.

Maybe this is a little bit of a political thing, but in Europe, a lot of art is also subsidized. There is a direct link with the government around what our duties are as artists. We have a relationship where we can say, “We going to do this, but not that.” There is an interaction that’s quite healthy. The commercial circuit is much, much harder because if it’s not making money, it’s not going to run.

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