Exclusive: Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui On Creating The Movement Of JAGGED LITTLE PILL
In this feature, originally printed in the program of American Repertory Theater's JAGGED LITTLE PILL, choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui discusses his influences and creating the movement for the musical world of Alanis Morissette.
I was seventeen when I heard "You Oughta Know" for the first time. It struck me with its strength, its anger, its beauty, and also its sadness. I had just broken up with my first boyfriend, and as I listened to the lyrics of that song, I knew I was never going to be the same. The song engraved itself on my mind and made me feel like I wasn't alone. It expressed the raw emotions I was feeling, while also somehow empowering me. It spoke the hard truth and captured the feeling of being betrayed, yet it also inspired me to be resilient and to allow myself to voice anger without shame or self-censorship.
I was fascinated and wanted to hear more from this powerful, smart, beautiful, and soulful artist who had created this unique song. What else did Alanis Morissette have to say to me, to teach me? It turns out, a whole lot. Alanis's music has been a part of my personal journey ever since.
I grew up in a small town in Belgium with a Muslim Moroccan father and a Catholic Flemish mother. An "in-between-many-cultures boy," I realized early on I was gay; I was a vegetarian; I have always been a teetotaler; I was also a small, intellectual, chubby kid who wanted to dance... Basically, I was filled with so-called contradictions. I was a bit of a confusing, crazy case for some, a mystery for others. I felt like an outcast from my earliest memories onwards, and it was a relief to listen to lyrics that came so close to my personal internal monologues.
Whatever I was struggling with, Alanis had a song that would tackle it. It felt as if I had found a "like-minded individual" or even a "soul to dig the hole much deeper." Especially through her second album, Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie, which I listened to on repeat for what seems like an eternity, I felt I could quiet my mind as my feelings were there, in the music, in her albums, in her voice. The thing is, you don't become a "fan" of Alanis; you rather fall in love with her, feel her, meet her in her lyrics, agree with her, learn from her, grow up with her.
"We'll flash forward to a few years later..."
When I met Diane Paulus I had a similar feeling of recognition-such an inspiring and gentle voice, filled with reason, logic, and artfulness. She spoke about creating a musical based on Alanis's Jagged Little Pill album and asked me to choreograph it. "How was this going to be possible?" I wondered. But in Diane's eyes, I saw that she could imagine it. So I said yes.
Diablo Cody's early drafts of the story floored me: this was exactly what I felt I needed to do. I was reminded of why I decided to become an artist in the first place. Listening to Tom Kitt's arrangements was uncanny; he created a beautiful tapestry, a unity by merging all these soulful songs. It was as if these songs had been written for the story.
During the rehearsal process, I think I cried almost every day at some point because of the emotions the work unleashed. It was overwhelming, and that hasn't been my usual experience as a director or choreographer. The production touches upon very personal and universal issues, most of which we still don't have clear answers for. Every day we are looking for ways to tackle addiction, racism, and intolerance, and to fight our confusing expectations and the outright delusions in our divided society. The musical felt like the therapy I never had; it felt important, it felt true. I tried to be as honest and open as possible in the process, to share as much as I could, to give it my all.
Our aim is to let the story, the songs, the movement take you on a journey, one in which you feel the perspectives of all the characters and see how they- together-create an entanglement, but also a family in the truest sense.
Originally appeared in the program for American Repertory Theater's world premiere production of Jagged Little Pill, performed May 5 - July 15, 2018 at the Loeb Drama Center (Cambridge, MA).