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Cherkaoui elevated to Commander in Order of Arts and Letters

18:11 20/12/2019

Belgian choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui was at the French embassy in Brussels this week to receive a medal as a Commander in the Order of Arts and Letters. It is the highest ranking of the most prestigious award in France for artistic achievement.

According to the French government, the Order of Arts and Letters “is intended to reward persons who have distinguished themselves by their creations in the artistic or literary field or by their influence on the Arts and Letters in France and in the world”. Of the three rankings of Knight, Officer and Commander in the Order, Commander is the highest. Cherkaoui had already been named an Officer in the order, in 2013.

“France was one of the countries where your talent was noticed and supported at an early age,” said French ambassador to Belgium Hélène Farnaud-Defromont at the award ceremony on Wednesday. “In Paris, there was the Théâtre des Abbesses and the Théâtre de la Ville, and after that came the Festival d’Avignon.”

Endless accolades

Cherkaoui, 43, is the artistic director of Royal Ballet Flanders and of his contemporary dance company Eastman, as well as an associated artist at Sadler’s Wells in London. He has received numerous accolades and awards in his 25-year career, including the Olivier Award, the Harvard Leadership Prize and the Kairos Prize for cultural dialogue.

He has been named choreographer of the year three times by Germany’s prestigious dance magazine Tanz as well as by various other organisations at home and abroad. Cherkaoui also has an honorary doctorate from Antwerp University.

His 2015 appointment as artistic head of Flanders’ Royal Ballet followed a turbulent period in the ballet marked by budget cuts and a lack of leadership, which culminated in a vote of no confidence by the dancers and the departure of one-third of the company.

Calming influence

It was hoped that Cherkaoui – known for his social and cultural sensitivity as much as his choreography – would turn the situation around. This he has done beyond all expectations, reviving the world-class reputation the ballet has previously known.

In 2016, the ballet celebrated a record year, and in 2017 was nominated for a Prix Benois for best choreography for the first time. It became the first company in the world to get the rights to perform Pina Bausch’s Café Müller and Jean-Christophe Maillot’s Faust outside of those choreographers’ own companies.

“I have had many ‘firsts’ in France, like the first time I danced at a festival or even in a theatre,” said Cherkaoui. “I sometimes have the feeling that my career actually started abroad and then was further developed in Flanders.”

Photo: Thierry Roge/BELGA