Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s debut as a choreographer was in 1999 with Andrew Wale’s ‘contemporary musical’, Anonymous Society. Since then he has made more than 20 full-fledged choreographic pieces and picked up a slew of awards, including the Fringe First award in Edinburgh, the special prize at the BITEF Festival in Belgrade, the promising choreographer prize at the Nijinsky Awards in Monte Carlo, the Movimentos award in Germany and the Helpmann award from Australia in 2007. In 2008 Sadler’s Wells named him an Associate Artist and in 2009 the Alfred Toëpfer Stiftung conferred its Kairos prize to him in recognition of his artistic philosophy and his quest for cultural dialogue. In 2008 and 2011 he was declared Choreographer of the Year by the dance magazine Tanz.
While Cherkaoui’s initial pieces were made as a core member of the Belgian collective, Les Ballets C. de la B. – Rien de Rien (2000), Foi (2003) and Tempus Fugit (2004) – he also undertook parallel projects that both expanded and consolidated his artistic vision. Ook (2000) was born from a workshop for mentally disabled actors held by Theater Stap in Turnhout with choreographer Nienke Reehorst; D’avant (2002) from an encounter with longstanding artistic partner Damien Jalet, Juan Kruz Diaz de Garaio Esnaola and Luc Dunberry of Sasha Waltz & Guests company; and zero degrees (2005) with friend and choreographer Akram Khan. He has worked with a variety of theatres, opera houses and ballet companies, but from 2004–2009 Cherkaoui was based in Antwerp where he was artist in residence at Toneelhuis, the theatre that produced Myth (2007) and Origine (2008).
In 2008 Cherkaoui premiered Sutra at Sadler’s Wells. This award-winning collaboration with Antony Gormley and the Shaolin monks continues to tour the world to great critical acclaim. After his first commissioned piece in North America, Orbo Novo (for Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet) and a series of duets such as Faun (which premiered at Sadler’s Wells as part of In the Spirit of Diaghilev) and Dunas with flamenco danseuse María Pagés (both in October 2009), he launched his new company Eastman in 2010, resident at deSingel International Arts Campus.
Spring 2010 saw him reunited with co-choreographer Damien Jalet and Antony Gormley to make Babel(words), the third part of a triptych that began with Foi and Myth. That same year he created Rein, a duet featuring Guro Nagelhus Schia and Vebjørn Sundby, as well as Play, a duet with kuchipudi danseuse Shantala Shivalingappa and Bound, a duet for Shanell Winlock and Gregory Maqoma as part of Southern Bound Comfort. Babel(words) triumphed at the 2011 Laurence Olivier Awards, winning best new dance production and outstanding achievement in dance for Antony Gormley.
2011 saw the creation of TeZukA, a new piece for 15 performers about the works of the master of Japanese manga, Osamu Tezuka. Cherkaoui also created Labyrinth for Dutch National Ballet.
In 2012 he created Puz/zle with 11 dancers and the Corsican men’s choir A Filetta, Lebanese singer Fadia Tomb El-Hage and Japanese musician Kazunari Abe. He also helmed the choreography for Anna Karenina, the film by Joe Wright, featuring ao Keira Knightley and Jude Law.