News: Anna Karenina film - with movement by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui

Wednesday 26 September 2012 by Carmel Smith

The choreographer for a recently released new film based on Tolstoy’s 1870 novel Anna Karenina is well known to contemporary dance audiences – Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui. The award winning Belgian/Moroccan dance artist has been involved in many high profile collaborations. Sutra, which he created with sculptor Antony Gormley and the monks of the Shaolin Temple in 2008 still tours the world – but this is his first venture into film.

There are several dance sequences in the film – which has been set within an elaborate theatrical environment with sumptuous designs and costumes and screenplay by Tom Stoppard – but particular attention has been paid to movement throughout, reflecting Director Joe Wright’s thinking: “Film is basically time and movement, so why not really think about that movement?”

A pivotal moment in the film is a ballroom scene where Anna [ Keira Knightley] dances for the first time with Vronsky [ Aaron Taylor-Johnson ], who will become her lover.

Cherkaoui said: “It’s been a new experience for me to see how you can lead the eye of the audience into things and out of things. I’ve never had that opportunity to such a degree.
“Joe gave me so much freedom to reinvent the waltz, so I could actually approach it in my own style, which was much more about using arms and hands. Knowing that he liked what I’d come up with, it was exciting to teach the actors to go into that flow as if they would know this dance – and it was in part based on one done at that time.”

The two collaborated closely with composer Dario Marianelli – with the music written before and during the filming.

Although there are professional dancers in the film (Aaron Sillis, Daniel Proietto, Michela Meazza, James Cousins to name a handful) Cherkaoui worked intensively with the actors, so that all movement – not just the dance – is choreographed.

Kiera Knightley said: “I’m not a dancer and it’s not the way I express myself. But saying ‘we learned to dance’ doesn’t quite cover what we did. Whether it was a set piece, a dance piece, or a movement piece, everything had been ‘Larbi-fied.’”

“Doing the ballroom scenes was amazing. Larbi took it to a whole new level and we got to work on these dance routines, which took us weeks and weeks and weeks and were absolutely exhausting – on both my knees and hips! – but hopefully beautiful. The sequence is so much a part of my character, and of Aaron’s. He’s in his white costume, I am in black, and it’s like Yin and Yang.”

Some reviewers have criticised the film for not being a faithful interpretation of Tolstoy’s novel, but anyone with an interest in dance is likely to find Anna Karenina worth watching – as it shows movement as an integral part of story telling in a film which isn’t a musical.

Anna Karenina is on general release.

The video clip gives a flavour of the film, but only gives brief glimpses of the main ballroom scenes.

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