Performance: 27 & 28 October 2016
Reviewed by Sarah Kent - Monday 31 October 2016

Eastman/Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui 'Fractus V'. Photo: Bettina Strenske.

Performance reviewed: 27 October

Initially created in 2014 for the 40th anniversary of Pina Bausch’s Tanztheater Wuppertal, Fractus V has since grown from a trio into a quintet of male dancers whose backgrounds include flamenco (Fabian Thome Duten), lindy hop (Johnny Lloyd), circus arts (Dimitri Jourde) and contemporary dance (Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui).

Given that the cast also includes Patrick Williams Seebacher (aka Twoface), whose breakdancing skills win him international dance battles, you might expect a testosterone-fuelled display of competitive acrobatics. Not a bit of it; Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s latest production is a supreme example of creative collaboration – tender, thoughtful, generous and funny.

The words of the American linguist and philosopher, Noam Chomsky introduce the theme of the piece. Cherkaoui sums up the message as follows: _“The only way the individual is able to protect himself against political and social propaganda is to study the information available. Each day we are bombarded with news that tries to influence our thinking. It is a very intensive exercise to filter everything and to resist believing what we are told to believe.” _

One way of countering this barrage of misinformation, Cherkaoui argues, is to focus on one’s creativity and thereby foster independent thought. But if Fractus V exemplifies the rebellious spirit in action, it does so with remarkable ease and lightness of spirit.

Joining the dancers on stage are four musicians also from diverse traditions. Kaspy N’dia is a Congolese singer, Woojae Prak sings and plays the geomungo, (a six stringed Korean zither), Soumik Datta plays the Sarod (a four stringed Indian lute) while Shogo Yoshi plays percussion and sings haunting Japanese vocals.

Each performer brings a wealth of experience, but perhaps because each one comes from a different country – nine in all – Fractus V seems to have broken free from the constraints of any one tradition to explore the almost limitless potential of creative fusion. As the dancers move independently or in unison, fluently or in staccato rhythms, a sarod solo may give way to the rhapsodic tinkling of the geomungo, a snippet of Japanese opera, the eerie cadences of a flute, the repeated pounding of a drum or the rasping sound of sharpening knives.

For despite the gentle rapport prevalent among the performers, the piece is not without violence. One of the most memorable sequences is of a bully boy systematically beating up everyone who crosses his path. Victims are felled by perfectly aimed kicks, punches, karate chops and head buts; each blow is amplified to the point where bones can be heard cracking and bodies thudding to the floor. Although self-evidently staged, the fight is an utterly convincing display of calculated aggression and abject defeat; when the action goes into slo-mo, it gives one the chance to witness in detail the choreography of everyday assault and battery.

In a similarly impressive sequence, Cherkaoui is repeatedly shot first by a lone gunman, then by two and finally three assassins. He jerks, twitches, recoils and crumples only to struggle back to his feet for yet more punishment. Under rapid repeat fire, his spasming body finally drops against the triangular shapes that make up the scenery, triggering a dramatic domino-effect collapse that brings the scene to a darkly comic conclusion.

The piece mainly consists, though, of lyrical sequences of either fluid or angular movements led by interweaving hands and arms. Cherkaoui’s signature line-ups also recur; standing behind one another and creating symmetrical patterns with their arms and legs, the dancers create multi-limbed gods and many headed monsters – a beguiling idea that he has used before, perhaps once too often.

The piece ends as harmoniously as it begins, with everyone singing in unison, first a plain song chant and then what sounds like a folk song – examples of people uniting in an enriching form of communal expression.

Best known as an art critic, Sarah Kent began writing about dance for The Arts Desk in 2012, only stopping recently when she was invited to serve on the dance panel of the Olivier Awards. A keen dancer herself, she brings a fresh perspective to the role of commentator.

Photos: Bettina Strenske

Leave a comment

You must be signed in to post comments.

Sign in now

What’s On