Rhythm is universal in play based on Biblical story
Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui explains the inspiration behind his new production which looks critically at the biblical story of The Tower of Babel.
Prejudice and perception are his targets. “There is a dancer in my company who is Moroccan and grew up in Belgium like me, but his skin is darker than mine,” the choreographer says. “In certain streets I am safer, in certain streets he is safer. This is the sad reality, even though we are the same. I’ve had that since I was a kid, that knowledge of skin colour; it influences people’s perceptions and opinions of you. People would be very nice to me, this little white boy, then very suspicious of my nephew because his skin was different.”
You can hear the sadness and anger in Cherkaoui’s words, though he expresses them with inordinate grace and good manners. His work is like that too, with a strong flow of movement ideas underpinned by athletic strength and often dignified by a surprising vein of humour and beauty.
As its title implies, Babel (words) is inspired by the biblical tale of the Babylonians who tried to build a tower so high that it would reach Heaven, only to be punished by a wrathful God. “It was the first time in the Bible that everybody did something wrong, it wasn’t just Eve or only Judas; it was actually all of us, we were all wrong,” Cherkaoui says. “In our arrogance we thought we could build something that would touch God. And God decided to punish us by separating languages so that we couldn’t understand each other.
“Well, I have an issue with that. I have an issue with God in general, I’m very Richard Dawkins about that. And I feel that in a sense there is a language that we still do have in common, all of us, and I would say that is rhythm. Because anywhere I’ve worked, in Japan or India, Morocco or Spain, rhythm is universal. Why did I make this piece? Because I feel that God did not separate us — we still have rhythm.”