Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui
“Fractus V” by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui. Photograph by Filip Van Roe

Breaking Point

Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui's “Fractus V”

Performance
Eastman - Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui: “Fractus V”
Place
Sadler's Wells, London, UK, October 27 & 28, 2016
Words
Rachel Elderkin

The dancers and musicians gather on the stage, the chorus of their voices rising through the auditorium. There’s a Middle Eastern influence to their music, a complex layering of sound that comes from the diversity of styles choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui has brought together. Each of his dancers and musicians are experienced in different disciplines and this crossing of skills provides a rich palette for Cherkaoui to draw from. The result is a carefully crafted work that emerges from a maelstrom of music, movement, voice and image.

Inspired by American philosopher Noam Chomsky’s thoughts on political propaganda and freedom of speech, “Fractus V” looks at the individual and their struggle against a constant onslaught of information. Spoken word conveys some of Chomsky’s writings on the subject. Meticulously matched to movement, it’s a telling reflection on our society as Chomsky’s words express the difficulty of deciphering the truth within the endless supply of information presented to us. Stood one behind the other three dancers emphasise the words with their hand gestures, intricate actions that constantly re-order and re-organise.

Performed by five male dancers, including Cherkaoui, and four musicians, “Fractus V” is an intelligent and acutely choreographed work. The message within Cherkaoui’s work is often presented in an abstract manner, yet the intense atmosphere created by the live music and interplay between dancers and musicians—combined with sudden moments of striking visual clarity—creates a piece both considered and fluent.

“Fractus V”by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui. Photograph by Filip Van Roe

Cherkaoui’s ideas play out within a constantly reshaping world. The performers slide triangular slabs around the space, creating shifting sculptures and floor designs upon and between which scenes unfold. Cherkaoui and flamenco dancer, Fabian Thomé Duten, advance towards each other, their pathway laid out before them as their feet beat the rhythmic patterns of their dance. The exchange of disciplines within Cherkaoui’s work creates a varied movement language. Contemporary is combined with breakdance to create a fluid, floor-based movement style, while elements of hip hop—most noticeably tutting—are woven into the movements of the upper body. There’s an exquisite moment where arms and hands twist into shapes like the shifting patterns of a kaleidoscope—set against a dialogue that speaks of control and repression, it’s an image of both beauty and monstrosity.

Within this constantly evolving work arise stark images of violence. A man enters with a gun and shoots another repeatedly, the dancer’s body contorting and convulsing with each gunshot. Eventually he lies still and the guns transform into the flashing cameras of the press. It’s an uncomfortable reflection on the kind of world we have become accustomed to.

Cherkaoui has a refined ability for choreographing in slow motion and he uses this to great effect in the creation of a fight scene—an inadvertently comical parody on the violent blockbusters we view as entertainment. Three dancers fly and fall in slow motion at the hands of their invincible opponent, their bodies reverberating with the ‘impact’ of each attack. It’s a scene comparable to one from a special effects-laden movie, but here, performed in real time, vocals and instruments emphasise each punch and every crunch of bone. Although the scene is at times comical, it is also a testing image of human destruction.

Within this work lies a message about our society. It’s not an easy one to absorb, but the sense of it offers much for contemplation. The work’s title, “Fractus V,” derives from the concept that something must fracture to become stronger. Cherkaoui threads through his work the image of a broken society, but within this there is the power of the individual. In the final moments the work looks to our overwrought brains and suggests the strength to be found in achieving a state of calm; Cherkaoui’s intricate web of sound, movement and ideas settling into stillness and darkness. In “Fractus V” Cherkaoui shows us his ability to throw a myriad elements together and, from within that, pull an idea that resonates with subtle complexity.

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