Apocrifu – Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui: Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank Centre, London 24 January 2014

Say the word

By the power of Greyskull! Sidi Larbi Cherkauoi channels his inner strength in Apocrifu

By the power of Greyskull! Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui channels his inner strength in Apocrifu. Photo by Koen Broos

With the multi-layered set strewn liberally with books it’s immediately clear that language (and, more specifically, religious and idealogical text) is a major theme of Apocrifu. Speech, singing, the written word, visual imagery and, of course, the human body all combine to create a truly stunning piece of dark theatre.

Frustrated aggression is never far from the surface. Books are flung at the dancers, bashed on heads and smothered in faces. The extraordinary Dimitri Jourde in particular contorted himself in twisted lopes that rarely lifted him more than 12 inches off the floor. His prolonged writhing solos were captivating and the desperation he portrayed when vainly trying to remove the bells strapped to his ankles was almost painful to watch.

Whereas Jourde’s torment seemed to emanate from within his own head, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s was mostly external and physical. He was constantly under attack from books, from a puppet and from the damage he could do to his own body – the moment he threw himself backwards to land squarely on the top of his head was almost frightening in its violent bluntness.

In gentler contrast, Yasuyuki Shuto cut a more elegant figure with his stylish turns and poised classical postures. He also appeared a little alienated from the other two, not so involved, more content in what he could express.

As always with Cherkaoui there was plenty of wonderfully inventive choreography. The duet between himself and Jourde where their heads conjoined was unearthly to look at, the trio of intertwining arms holding books was funny, clever and superbly executed and Cherkaoui’s own puppet/robot solo was disconcerting yet emotionally involving.

There was also excellent use of Herman Sorgeloos’ staging. The spliced layers meant that the stage’s entire visual square was used and a sense of height and proportion was incorporated to give a profound scale to the protagonists’ struggle for meaning. There was also a rather sinister bunraku puppet which was operated with great delicacy at first although he became increasingly belligerent as his story unfolded (it was still a sad sight, however, when Cherkaoui stomped up the enormous staircase at the finale with the dead puppet tossed over his shoulder).

To back up the dancers were the magnificent seven strong Corsican male choir A Filetta. Their Moorish-sounding polyphonics of long unwavering notes and curling harmonies was exquisite and set the oppressively contemplative tone for the whole piece.

Apocrifu is a deeply intense work, unsettling at times but with a compelling core that draws you into its mysterious world and leaves you hanging for breath. Live performance at its provocative (in all the right meaning of the word) best.

Gerard Davis

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One Response to Apocrifu – Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui: Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank Centre, London 24 January 2014

  1. was lucky enough to attend last night. I remain fully convinced of Cherkaoui’s genius – and if not genius, then of his magnificent talent for organising bodies in movement. The inclusion of A Filetta always weaves a magical spell, and linking their unearthly powers with elements of bunraku was inspired. I was moved. Thank you for posting this review of an excellent night.

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