Part contortionist, part visionary, part poet, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui is not most people's idea of a dancer-choreographer. He's not most people's idea of a Belgian either. Born to a Flemish mother and Moroccan father, his name means "Mr Arab from the East", though his pale, northern, elfin looks make you wonder what his parents were thinking.
"Of course that twin cultural identity feeds into what I do," he says. "I was raised a Muslim and now I'm not. But that's no more significant than that I was mad on drawing when I was a kid. I wanted to draw reality, but when I drew clouds, I'd also draw the things I could see in them. The great thing about dancing is that you're both the pencil and the artist. I still translate the world into something beyond the facts."
Cherkaoui first made an impact on the contemporary dance stage with Belgian group Les Ballets C de la B, since when he has created 10 shows in seven years (and he's only 31). These included Zero Degrees, a wildly praised collaboration with British-Bangladeshi dancer Akram Khan and sculptor Antony Gormley at Sadler's Wells, which has just finished a run in New York.
This month Sadler's Wells hosts not one, but two Cherkaoui projects. Sutra involves 17 monks from China's Shaolin Temple – where he spent two months in training – and, again, conceptual input from Gormley, this time in the form of lorry-loads of open-sided boxes that generate imagery as varied as tumbling dominoes and a Himalayan peak. By contrast, Myth is a mysterious piece about two characters increasingly spooked by their shadows, spectacularly evoked by 19 dancers. "It comes from Jung," Cherkaoui explains. "He believed that when an idea comes into your head, its opposite lies just behind it."
' Myth', Friday-Saturday; 'Sutra', 27-31 May, Sadler's Wells, London EC1 (0844 412 4300)Reuse content