If I have to single out one impression I took away from the Dance Talk on Orbo Novo, it is that the people who collaboarted with Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui on the work maintained a genuine faith in and admiration for his process. Linda Monich, a researcher who observed the rehearsal process and Alexandra Damiani, Cedar Lake’s Ballet Mistress, gave a detailed description of the different stages of work with insights not only on Larbi’s philosophy and practice but also on the dancers’ response to the process. And, while there was quite a lot of material on the choreographer himself, gaining insight on the dancers’ perspective on the work and the collaboration was welcome and made this talk exciting.
Orbo Novo engages with ideas on boundaries and transitions (from the East to the West side of the world, from the right to the left side of the brain), on perception (of the world) and contamination (by the world). As the piece sets out to explore ideas and behaviors rendered in physical terms, there seems to be a constant interplay between individuality and collectivity both in the collaborative process and the use of ideas and forms. Damiani, for example, described how Jill Bolte Taylor’s personal story (My Stroke of Insight) on which the piece is largely inspired, is magnified and rendered collective as Cherkaoui replicates her text and gestural vocabulary (based on an exhaustive study of her gestures in her video lecture that the dancers were required to do) and multiplies it among the bodies of the dancers. In fact, Cherkaoui’s work with small gestures (an idiom that partly accounts for the theatricality that critics have observed in his work) seems to hold a central position in the piece, exploring the limits between everyday behaviors and larger ideas.
This constant tension between the particular and the general, resonates also with the particularities of the dancers’ bodies and dance backgrounds, which Cherkaoui highlights (with movement as well as costume) instead of restricting to classical dance’s uniformity. In that context, as Monich and Damiani repeatedly stressed, the relationship between Cherkaoui and his dancers became one of mutual giving: in working on the choreographers’ “tasks” (elemental movement sequences that formed certain basic ideas of the piece) the dancers were compelled to find their individual path, discover what they had to bring to the process and find their personal way of getting where the choreographer wanted them to get.
Toward the end of the discussion, Monich and Damiani emphasized that Orbo Novo is a process- a work that is alive, that constantly grows and evolves. It is the faith and commitment to this process as it ambitiously explores fundamental, often archetypal, human concepts, that makes the piece an important work of art. Roslyn Sulcas notes in her recent New York Times article, “whether [Cherkaoui’s] work will appeal to American sensibilities remains to be seen. But what’s important is it will be seen.”
The next Dance Talk, which focuses on Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company’s Serenade/The Proposition, will take place on Monday, November 2, 6-8pm at Joyce SoHo (155 Mercer Street). Admission is free. Please call 646-792-8377 to reserve your place.