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Les Ballets C de la B / Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui

'Tempus Fugit'

Explorers of the fourth dimension

by Julia Skene-Wenzel

October 16, 2004 -- Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

Time – is it controlling us, or can we control time? Is it universal, or conditioned by cultural frameworks? Are two minutes always the same length, or can they be longer and shorter? Does individual perception alter time – can you master time?

Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, one of four choreographers and directors of the artistic collective Les Ballets C de la B, sets out to challenge the apparent absoluteness of time. Celebrated as one of the brightest new talents in Political Dance Theatre, the twenty-eight year old Belgium-Moroccan created a stir with his debut piece "Rien de Rien" (2001) and firmly established himself as a major new player with the highly acclaimed "Foi" (2003). His latest production "Tempus Fugit" aims to test our concept of time and transform it into a dance partner, rather than a controlling force.

Framed by two rows of iron trees, time unfolds on a green stage. Cherkaoui circles around one of the trunks - his slow and constant steps measuring time – his pathway symbolising the components that allow time to exist: rotation and gravity. Soon his rhythm is confronted by another dancer, who breaks into a fast-paced figure of eight and is gradually joined by the remaining performers – turning the wheel of time.
The beautiful voice of Najib Cherradi, chanting Arabic melodies, invites them back to childhood – in school the green floor turns into a chalk board, where memories can be written down, but also erased; their play turns into bullying, the rise of fame turns sour, the first romance leads into a seductive tango, then fast forwards into marriage and eventual death – to then rewind back to the ‘present’.

Every performer sings a tale, shares a piece of timeless memory and takes us on a momentary journey, constructing a thick layer of time fragments. The multi-national cast gives rise to varied accounts and slowly politics emerge - racism, gender suppression, the power struggle in the European Union… “Somebody has to be down, so that somebody can be up - so they tell me” announces a woman before she is wrapped up in a headscarf.

Through projections of earth, air and water, three elements that condition life, Cherkaoui opens the artificial stage space. He also frees his performers from restrictions of gravity, by using Chinese poles. Providing a structural component, he enables bodies to rise and fall, rotate and pivot high up in the air – do you control time, when you control the natural fall of a body?

His eclectic movement background engages acrobatics with unconventional pointe-work and merges native styles with contemporary patterns. However, it is the live songs and music that drive this piece forward and elevate dancers and audience into a constant cycle of energy. ‘Timeless’ melodies from Mediterranean and Arabic traditions blend and fuse with the scenes on stage, creating a thick tapestry of images, symbols, cultures and experiences.

"Tempus Fugit" has not got the violent impact of "Foi", however its internal rhythm gives the piece an organic quality that is rare in Dance Theatre. Cherkaoui’s commitment to question the world around him has given rise to a melting pot of cultures, styles, ideas and concepts and with that his pieces are a true reflection of our contemporary world and remain on the forefront of European dance.

Edited by Jeff.

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