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Eastman – Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui: Fractus V ‘is a truly excellent production’

Fractus V by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui
Fractus V by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui – © Filip Van Roe

It’s the inclusion of the spoken word in Fractus V that sets it firmly in the ‘contemporary’ dance productions camp, as opposed to ‘classical’. That, and the sound effects, so potent and vivid, simply don’t exist in classical dance, where even a hand clap is frowned upon, and the only sound created emanates from the orchestra. Here, the use of a live band on movable sets meant the musicians were very much a part of the on-stage action as the dancers, and one scene even brought the roaming sets of Jersey Boys to mind, with the band positioned centre stage as opposed to their typical stations on the periphery.

There is something for everyone in this wide-ranging production, incorporating a broad scope of dances. But this is far from an episode of BBC Television’s Strictly Come Dancing, in which any number of different styles are presented disparately. There’s a clear, unambiguous story being told – the irony of there being a lack of information overload in a show about information overload is not lost on this production, or on this cultured Sadler’s Wells audience. It is not as if we do not know where to look.

This seems to be the salient point or at least one of them. I thought of two examples that best demonstrate what the show is trying to say, neither of which is directly referenced in the show itself, so there are no spoilers here. The first is a famous quote from the poetry of WH Davies: “A poor life this is full of care / We have no time to stand and stare.” The second is a story, referenced in Stephen Covey’s book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, about a strong woodcutter who was hired by a timber company. His employer supplied him with an axe, but over time he brought in fewer and fewer amounts of wood. Baffled as to how exerting as much effort as possible each day could lead to increasingly worse results, he was eventually asked how often he sharpened his axe. His response was that he never had time to sharpen his axe, as he was too busy cutting trees. He was advised accordingly.

So the performance itself momentarily stops, pauses and reflects, but never too long so as to run the risk of losing the audience’s attention. I thought the moving of (mostly) triangular blocks around the stage was taking too long and not achieving very much, though the audience is eventually rewarded with a spectacular end to that particular scene. It came across to me, however, as an exorbitant amount of effort for a few seconds of stunning staging. Again, this is exactly what the show asserts. There is no gain without pain, and for something to be well-executed it must first be well-planned.

And, goodness me, is this show well-planned. A mesmerising fight scene was, as far as I can recall, by some margin the longest fight scene I have come across in live performance – and the very best. There were even, paradoxically, moments of hilarity in all the (weapon-free) fighting. Every bodily reaction to every punch and kick was captured perfectly in this superbly choreographed sequence.

Despite the clear points the show puts across, it was never preachy or patronising. The show’s strength is in its depiction of several dancers as one body or entity. The choreography in the group dances is nothing short of phenomenal. The singing that accompanied the show is broadly in the style of the live music featured in Cirque du Soleil shows: words were sung in no discernible language and yet the songs are somehow accessible to all. It lasted almost ninety minutes but it really felt like just nine. A truly excellent production.

5 Star Rating
Review by Chris Omaweng

Celebrated as one of the most original and ambitious talents working in contemporary dance today, Sadler’s Wells Associate Artist Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s latest creation is inspired by the American philosopher Noam Chomsky, and features an all-male cast of dancers and musicians.

Returning to the stage as a performer, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui explores the production and manipulation of information in contemporary society.

Originally created for the 40th anniversary of Pina Bausch’s Tanztheater Wuppertal, this expanded version of the piece features five dancers with very different styles – circus, Lindy hop, flamenco, hip hop and breakdance – with three musicians performing live.

Sadler’s Wells
Rosebery Avenue, London, EC1R
27th and 28th October 2016

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