Catching Up With 2020 Tony-Nominated Choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui

March 6, 2021

It’s been five months since the 2020 Tony Award nominations were announced—and while there’s still no set date for the awards ceremony, voting officially began March 1. This week, Dance Magazine is catching up with each of this year’s three nominees for Best Choreography.

Here, Broadway newcomer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui talks about being nominated for his expansive, hyperkinetic choreography for Jagged Little Pill.

Celia Rose Gooding, Lauren Patten and the
Jagged Little Pill
Matthew Murphy, Courtesy Vivacity Media Group

What has it meant to you to be nominated during this historic Broadway shutdown?

Given the circumstances we’re in, any celebration possible is taken with two hands. I also feel very honored because I’m not American, so it’s a big deal to be nominated for anything outside of the usual places where I work.

At the same time, I’m aware there’s resistance towards the Tonys because of their lack of diversity. People are asking for categories to be changed from “Best Performance by an Actor/Actress” to “Best Lead.” Or let’s think about a nomination for Best Ensemble. On a selfish level, I’m happy and flattered, while in a global way, I want to help change things so everybody feels heard.

Were you a fan of Alanis Morissette’s music before this show?

I know all the words to all the songs. Alanis’ music has been there for me since I was 18 years old. When I got to meet her, I told her, “You’ve been in my life for so long!” She, of course, had no idea who I was.

When choreographing the show, I was influenced by how Alanis herself moves. She’s a natural dancer who learns choreography quickly. You just have to watch the “So Pure” video to see that. On the other hand, she can improvise manically. She consciously doesn’t control her instincts, and it becomes an almost therapeutic release. I call Alanis “the goddess of our show.” She’s the template for the movement style that I encouraged the dancers to follow.

You were both the choreographer and the movement director for Jagged Little Pill. Can you explain the distinction in terms of this show?

Jagged Little Pill
‘s movement direction is linked to the set. It’s often not the dancers but everything around them that moves. I’ve worked with big objects in other projects. Plus, I come from a dance-theater background, which helped in figuring out what characters might be feeling, where they’d be in the space and what movement they’d be doing. Of course, it was always director Diane Paulus’ final say. We’d keep looking for a solution until she was happy.

What’s on your mind as the Tony voting period begins?

I cried a lot during the making of this show. It addresses so many issues that resonated with me: struggling in long-term relationships, feeling disconnected from your upbringing, issues around identity. Not every professional environment gives you that kind of space to let your emotions be part of the work.

I’ve been a choreographer for 20 years. At the end of the day, it’s about how you channel your ideas through emotions. With Jagged Little Pill, it was so nice to let the tricks go and trust my feelings again.