Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s new ballet makes eye contact with the past


To end its successful season, Royal Ballet Flanders is presenting a triptych of performances, including a world premiere by artistic director Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui

Art is timeless

A world premiere by Antwerp choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui has always been an anticipated event, and we’re just lucky there are more of them now than before, with his appointment last year as the artistic director of Royal Ballet Flanders.

To end its successful season – which is looking to break records – the ballet is presenting a triptych of performances linked by the music of turn-of-the-20th-century French composer Maurice Ravel. Cherkaoui’s premiere of Exhibition starts the show.

“For me, there are no different genres of art, there’s just one,” Ravel once said. This most intriguing statement was never more put to the test than in his Pictures at an Exhibition, an orchestral piece he arranged in 1922 based on 19th-century Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky’s piano suite.

Mussorgsky was inspired to write the piece after visiting an exhibition of work by his friend, artist Viktor Hartmann. Cherkaoui is adding another layer to the art. “There is a beautiful kind of timelessness in this project,” he says. “Mussorgsky found it important to create sounds for Hartmann’s paintings, Ravel followed with an orchestral work based on Mussorgsky’s music and now comes a choreographic interpretation of Ravel’s work. Time and art flow into one another.”

The piece finds some 20 dancers springing in and out of frames, like paintings jumping from the wall. Cherkaoui is playing with our obsession with viewing works that often reflect very simple, everyday activities – making eye contact with the past.

The other two pieces on the bill are Ma mère l’Oye (Mother Goose) by Flemish choreographer Jeroen Verbruggen, a Ballet Flanders’ alumnus currently choreographing for Les Ballets de Monte Carlo. His inspiration for the new piece is unexpected: The romance between the late King Boudewijn and Queen Fabiola.

The third piece needs no introduction: the late French choreographer Maurice Béjart’s legendary Boléro, here danced alternately by two leads, one male and one female.

Until 25 June, across Flanders

Photo credit © FilipVanRoe