'Apocrifu' – Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui
Belgian-born choreographer/director Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui creates collaborative works using cross-cultural and inter-disciplinary practices. 'Apocrifu', premiered in 2007, deals with various texts in ideological and religious writings, most notably the tension between an apocryphal Biblical text and the Qur’an. With a Moroccan father and Flemish mother, the piece's tension is in a sense autobiographical.
Cherkaoui performs here along with contemporary dancer and circus artist Dimitri Jourde and Japanese classical ballet dancer Yasuyuki Shuto. They are accompanied by the all-male Corsican vocal ensemble, A Filetta. An imposing staircase made of bare wood and a platform divides the space into two tiers. The choir, dressed in black, sings polyphony from the upper-level, their angelic voices cutting through the chime of bells tied onto the dancers’ ankles, creating a sacred ambience.
Books and a so-called bunraku puppet take crucial roles in 'Apocrifu'. There are piles of books dotted around the stage. Dancers stride on them as if on stepping stones, dance with them, hand and throw them to each other. Cherkaoui states that holy scriptures do not come from god but are written by men. As dancers write words on their skin, they embody the texts, and the writings of men become a doctrine that dominates not only thought and beliefs but also bodily practices. Kinship and conflicting beliefs trigger violence.
The half life-sized back-rodded puppet, dressed in a grey suit, is manipulated by all three dancers and recapitulates their movements. It soon breaks out of the confinements of its status as a human double and interacts or listens to the dancers. Cherkaoui and Shuto in turn take on puppet-like characteristics, miming the style of a string puppet moved by invisible strings.
Shuto quotes (in Japanese) the controversial Japanese writer-director Yukio Mishima: “To die for a reason was the most glorious death”. This is followed by a sword dance. Jourde, dressed in the same grey suit worn by the puppet, slashes out at Cherkaoui with his sword and sticks the blade through the puppet’s body, depicting seppuku – the suicidal ritual of the samurai warriors, penetrating the puppet in the same manner by which Mishima took his own life.
At Apocrifu’s end, Cherkaoui ties an invisible string around his neck, pulls it up and suffocates himself. Words become body and body becomes a lifeless object, manipulated by forces beyond its control. The mis-en-scène, dancing, object play and music are spiritual and enticing. But the piece's coupling of religious violence with the glorification of the Japanese far right’s ideal of death for the collective is deeply troubling.
Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui