Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui/Eastman’s Fractus V: the extraordinary ordinary

Sadler’s Wells, London
October 27, 2016

Maggie Foyer

In Fractus V, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, a master of creative movement meets Noam Chomsky, a master of verbal dexterity. The packaging of the piece is deceptively simple, denims and T-shirts plus the odd jacket, no pretentious lighting effects and a set of little more than triangular floor tiles that have their own choreographic life. The five male dancers could not look more ordinary but their talent is phenomenal. Dmitri Jourde comes from a virtuosic circus background, Johnny Lloyd from Lindy Hop, Patrick Williams Seebacher/ Twoface is from the hip hop and breakdance world while Fabian Thomé Duten is a flamenco dancer. Choreographer, Cherkaoui completes the quintet, bringing his unparalleled range of movement.

The rich line-up is completed by four musicians from very different musical cultures: Korean geomungo specialist Woojae Park, Soumik Datta, a master of the Indian sarod, Shogo Yoshii embedded in Japanese music while Kaspy N’dia from the Congo adds his African voice. All bring invention to their musical traditions that blend as seamlessly as the dance techniques: the polyphonic song melding all nine performers creating a moment of ecstatic communality.

Fractus VPhoto Filip Van Roe
Fractus V
Photo Filip Van Roe

Noam Chomsky, a scourge of the establishment and writer who delights in exposing media control, is an unlikely inspiration for a choreographer. However, Cherkaoui is no ordinary choreographer and Chomsky’s words are woven into a web of intricate mime as hands flutter with the dexterity and speed of a humming bird. Arms make a kaleidoscope of symmetric patterns, matched by the floor tiles manipulated with jigsaw ingenuity as the dance progresses.

Chomsky’s passionate anger against our thoughtless acceptance of the media’s message distinguishes the ‘them and us’, while Cherkaoui makes his plea for freedom through a constant reinvention of identity and sharing of cultures. Each of the dancers has the fluidity, strength and grace of a cat finding in their bodies the ‘liberty of expression’ that Cherkaoui seeks. Add to this dramatic content and skillful structure and you have a riveting performance grounded by philosophical integrity.

In a world surrounded by guns and violence, Cherkaoui chooses not to avoid the inevitable. The power of a big man set against three opponents is played in slow motion bringing an unexpected beauty to the deadly intent and into the mix of technical skill and grace, he even manages a dash of humour. In an earlier scene, man is shot multiple times, the bullets ripping through his body, now as helpless as a rag doll. Cherkaoui is never polemic but the battle of the individual against the structures of power is Chomsky in action.

In a performance of constant delights, the brutality is contrasted by a scene of sensual grace as the men explore their feminine side with undulating hips and arms. The movement quality throughout is captivating. So spontaneous it seems unrehearsed but the timing and precision taking it to another level. An evening in the theatre in the company of Eastman extends the definition of what it is to be human to extraordinary lengths. Sadly, it plays only two nights at Sadler’s Wells but will be touring internationally for some time.