Last fall, one of Europe’s most intriguing choreographers, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, took over as artistic director of one of its most intriguing companies, Royal Ballet of Flanders. What was once a small regional company in Antwerp had transformed into a fascinating powerhouse under former artistic director (and Forsythe protégé) Kathryn Bennetts, until she resigned in 2012 over budget cuts and government plans to merge the ballet and opera companies. The next director was let go within two years, after 69 percent of the dancers voted no confidence in her leadership and a third of them quit, according to Flanders Today.
So when it was announced that Cherkaoui would take over this season, the stakes were high. While some were optimistic the talented choreographer could usher in a bright new era for the troupe, locals were nervous it would mean the end of ballet in Belgium, and feared that his style was too experimental to fit the adventurous, but classically-based troupe.
How has his leadership panned out so far? American audiences will get a peek next week at the Dance Salad Festival in Houston, which will present curated sections of Fall, Cherkaoui’s first piece for the company as artistic director. Although RBF’s season had already been planned by the previous director, Cherkaoui added this ballet to the first program to give audiences a taste of his artistic vision for the troupe.
He explained the concept of Fall to Flanders Today: “The idea behind the performance is the fact that falling is a natural thing. It comes with gravity. The question is: Do you always stand up? Do you always land back on your feet again? Dancers are experts at falling and getting up again. For them, every fall is an opportunity.”
It’s a rich metaphor for a company that’s seen three directors in just over three years and weathered harsh budget cuts. Yet Cherkaoui remains hopeful he can lift it back on its feet.
Also on the Dance Salad lineup is his pas de deux Faun, which he created on his contemporary company, Eastman (also in Belgium), plus appearances from Spellbound Contemporary Ballet from Rome, Gartner Platz Theater from Munich, Stuttgart Ballet, National Ballet of Canada, BalletX and Northwest Dance Project. March 24–26, Wortham Center in Houston, TX.