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.