Mehdi Kerkouche sublimates dance in “Portrait”, his latest creation

Dancer, choreographer, director, producer, and director... Mehdi Kerkouche wears all these hats with as much energy as possible. The French artist does not hesitate to reconnect with his Algerian origins to enhance dance.


his company's latest creation, returns to La Scala in Paris until March 2, 2024.

The dancer and choreographer Mehdi Kerkouche. © Cedric Terrell

By: Mathilde Lavigne Follow


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Behind square-framed glasses and a striped shirt, Mehdi Kerkouche, with a smile on his lips, is an accomplished artist who stops at nothing. His latest creation


was born in January 2023

at the Suresnes Cités Danse festival

. What follows is the Avignon festival in the summer, then the stages of France, before 25 performances at La Scala in Paris from October 2023. On this rainy February afternoon, we find him there, while the performances resume the same evening: “

 It’s a great chance to come back here. Dance is often the last artistic parent of programmers and the occasions are rare that a dance show is performed for so long in a Parisian theater. We have our little cocoon, our habits too. For the dancers, it's great, it's a family life that sets in. 


The idea for the



 came a little by chance in 2021. The contemporary piece, made up of nine dancers of different styles, morphology and ages, paints the picture of a family and its daily challenges. During an improvisation session in the studio, Mehdi Kerkouche tries to get them to take a family photo, inspired by the series

Downton Abbey

that he was watching at the time: “ 

I liked this historical dandy side and the stories families,

he remembers.

As I wanted to represent the family, I looked for other profiles, including a matriarchal figure, someone older than the dancers I usually have on set.


Excerpt from the show “Portrait” by Mehdi Kerkouche. © Julien Benhamou

No detail is left to chance, including the lights or the music, whose soundtrack is by Lucie Antunes, “ 

a real artistic favorite

 ”. As for the interpretation, “ 

it is extremely important because it is what makes the choreography tell a story

,” explains the choreographer emphatically.

As a director, I guarantee that each performer knows why each movement is made at a specific moment, because it is not done gratuitously.


Always dance

As far back as he can remember, Mehdi has always danced. His mother enrolled him in his first modern jazz class at age 6. He progressed very quickly, but gave up on college due to lack of time and money. “ 

I continued to dance at home, copying every possible clip, and that made me a dancer

 ,” recalls the 37-year-old.

He spent his young years in the suburbs with his two brothers and parents with an immigrant background. “ 

When we are children, we are completely carefree, we are proud of our origins. As a teenager, we try to be like everyone else.

 » Being a very effeminate boy who lives in the suburbs, his mother Zohra tries to preserve him by enrolling him in a private college. The gap is enormous: “ 

We didn't have the same interests, not the same social origins. I had to hide my femininity. As a kid, I didn't want to speak Arabic. It's funny because when I ask my parents why they didn't teach me when I was little, they pat me on the head and say

 "you're the one who didn't want to".

And then, there is the whole question of self-affirmation, of accepting my homosexuality. It took time.


At 14-15 years old, his decision was made, he would be a professional dancer. His mother, not convinced, cannot afford to pay for lessons anyway. Heading forward, he rushes to the youth and culture center near his home: “ 

I didn’t tell my mother. I took the classes and then I invited her to the show.


Things continue to happen very naturally, through jazz, then hip-hop and dancehall



different approaches to dance each time. Either through musicality, or through corporeality, through emotions, through sensations

 ,” he explains. Several teachers took him under their wing, until the decisive meeting with the choreographer Kamel Ouali who propelled him onto television sets and musicals: “ 

Wherever he was, I was. I danced for

David Guetta


Bob Sinclar, on the set of Star Academy, the musicals The Sun King and Cleopatra...



I reconnected with my origins 

He continued his dancing career and accompanied

Christine and the Queens

on a world tour. But he is itching to create his own creations. It's 2017, and the EMKA company is coming to life. His first creation, 


, is directly inspired by a traditional Arabic dance of the same name. “ 

Through art and through my profession, I reconnected with my origins, realizing that we must wear them with pride

. »

When in the fall of 2020, troubled by Covid-19, the Paris Opera contacted him for a project, he accepted without hesitation, with “ 

the slab of dancing there

 ”. Despite enormous frustration at not being able to present the show in front of an audience due to confinement, the experience is a “ 


 ” because he manages to make a nod to his Algerian culture: “ 

The dancers had Berber tattoos on the face, like my grandmother wore. This symbol was very important to me.


Mehdi Kerkouche continues to move forward and takes over as director of the National Choreographic Center of Créteil in January 2023, succeeding

Mourad Merzouki

. If the first year was very intense, the time to understand how it works and the challenges, its new director is not afraid to roll up his sleeves: “ 

It’s a great tool for dance and choreographic art . There is a real desire to develop my creations, so I will create all my projects there. I also support emerging choreographers so they can develop their projects. The objective is to democratize dance, to bring it to all audiences, everywhere and as much as possible.




show at La Scala in Paris

until March 2.


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