What "You Oughta Know" About the Alanis Morissette Musical, According to the Choreographer
In 1995, when Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill album stormed the airwaves, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui was a young dancer in Antwerp, Belgium, taking his first steps toward a genre-mixing, category-defying career. In 2018, with more than 50 choreographic works and two Olivier Awards, he takes on the choreography of Jagged Little Pill, the musical, premiering May 5 at American Repertory Theater.
How did you come to be involved in Jagged Little Pill?
Diane Paulus, the director, was interested in working with me on this project. The opportunity to work with Alanis really excited me because there are a few female artists who have shaped my way of listening to music, my way of thinking about storyline and lyrics. Alanis Morissette is one of them.
Can we expect a narrative?
Yes, this is definitely a story. We follow a family through family dynamics that are quite peculiar—very interesting and touching. It's uncanny how the songs interject and lock into the group dynamics of the characters.
How have you found working with such iconic songs?
I come from the European school where sometimes we make choreography without music. However, this project is exciting because I know the songs inside out. They are part of my DNA. I also noticed that by working with the lyrics rather than counts, the performers picked up the choreography more quickly. The music isn't new to them. It is under their skin.
Working with iconic songs meant that "the performers picked up the choreography more quickly," Cherkaoui says. Photo by Jimmy Ryan, Courtesy A.R.T.
Your choreographic style is eclectic. What style will you be bringing to this production?
I always think of funky things. Here, it's exciting for me to have a context in which that fits and makes sense. There are definitely specific themes here that will have movement material a little bit out of the box. I try to be very intuitive and stay open to what I feel is necessary for each scene.
Do you think this work will challenge audiences?
Some of the topics are really sensitive and will, I hope, lead people to discover something about other people or about themselves. I experienced that working on it. There is so much we don't know about one another, or we ignore. This work is about daring to look at the complexity of life and see we are full of paradoxes. There is no easy answer, and it can be exciting to have a whole life to find those answers. I have been noticing that the people who come to watch art understand more and more how essential art is for peace of mind and for finding creative solutions to the messed up situations we end up in due to uncreative politics and greed.
Yvonne Rainer's Parts of Some Sextets (AKA "the mattress dance") hasn't been revived since it premiered in 1965. Nor has Rainer had any wish to do it again, to ask performers to heave 10 mattresses around while carrying out 31 tasks that changed every 30 seconds. It was an unwieldy, difficult dance. (Even the title is unwieldy.) But Emily Coates, who has danced in Rainer's work for 20 years, became curious about this piece and was determined to see it again—and to dance in it. She will get her wish November 15–17, when the mattress dance will be performed as part of the Performa 19 Biennial.
Back in 2011 when Joe Lanteri first approached Katie Langan, chair of Marymount Manhattan College's dance department, about getting involved with New York City Dance Alliance, she was skeptical about the convention/competition world.
"But I was pleasantly surprised by the enormity of talent that was there," she says. "His goal was to start scholarship opportunities, and I said okay, I'm in."
Today, it's fair to say that Lanteri has far surpassed his goal of creating scholarship opportunities. But NYCDA has done so much more, bridging the gap between the convention world and the professional world by forging a wealth of partnerships with dance institutions from Marymount to The Ailey School to Complexions Contemporary Ballet and many more. There's a reason these companies and schools—some of whom otherwise may not see themselves as aligned with the convention/competition world—keep deepening their relationships with NYCDA.
Now, college scholarships are just one of many ways NYCDA has gone beyond the typical weekend-long convention experience and created life-changing opportunities for students. We rounded up some of the most notable ones:
"The show must go on" may be a platitude we use to get through everything from costume malfunctions to stormy moods. But when it came to overcoming a literal hurricane, Houston Ballet was buoyed by this mantra to go from devastated to dancing in a matter of weeks—with the help of Harlequin Floors, Houston Ballet's longstanding partner who sprang into action to build new floors in record time.