Reviews London TheatreOWE & Fringe Published 1 November 2016

Review: Fractus V at Sadler’s Wells

Sadler's Wells ⋄ 27th - 28th October 2016

What do we have in common? William Drew reviews Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s work inspired by the words of Noam Chomsky.

William Drew
Fractus V being performed at Sadler's Wells. Photo: Filip Van Roe.

Fractus V being performed at Sadler’s Wells. Photo: Filip Van Roe.

“The information is there but it’s there to a fanatic, you know, somebody who wants to spend a substantial part of their time and energy exploring it and comparing today’s lies with yesterdays’s leaks and so on.”

Noam Chomsky’s words emitted from one body with many hands. In Fractus V, the five dancers repeatedly join together to form representations of gods and beasts from ancient mythological and religious iconography. Chomsky’s thinking was Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s inspiration for his latest creation, which started life as a shorter piece for three dancers made for the 40th anniversary of Pina Bausch’s Tanztheater Wuppertal.

In the expanded version, Cherkaoui himself is joined by four other male dancers. Each comes from a very different movement tradition: Dimitri Jourde (a frequent Cherkaoui collaborator) is from a circus background, Patrick Williams Seebacher (a.k.a. Twoface) is a hip hop dancer, Fabian Thomé is a flamenco dancer and Johnny Lloyd has previously specialised in Lindy Hop. Cherkaoui himself has a fluidity that extends to soaking up the energies of other dancers. This is the first time I have seen him work with a hip hop dancer, for example, and the jagged rawness that brings to the mix throws into relief the studied slickness of the rest of the dancers.

However, this kind of collaboration has become so much a part of his work that it no longer surprises. The cross-disciplinary nature of the work comprising both the form and the content of the work starts, in the end, to feel tired, even though it may be true to Cherkaoui’s own sense of self as a citizen of a globalised world (he is Belgian of Moroccan descent). This is further problematised by the model for commissioning new contemporary dance in Europe: international co-productions whose selling point is often a cross-cultural and cross-disciplinary collaboration. It’s starting to become like those restaurants you go to that want to tell you about their “small plates” policy. Yeah, everyone does that now, you feel like saying.

“That’s a researcher’s job and it’s… it just simply does not make any sense to ask the general population to dedicate themselves to this task on every issue.”

Chomsky again. I’m not sure where these quotes that punctuate the work are from. A recorded interview presumably, rather than a written text. As I watch, I feel that I need to work to figure out the connection between this text (about information) and the physical movement of these (male) bodies on stage and the live music being played by the live (male) musicians. The movement descends into violence. This is text about propaganda. About how the mainstream media is propaganda and this propaganda is used to stop us questioning the violence that is inflicted on others in our name. Yes? Surely not…

“What you do is join with people and try to find a common truth, one that might sustain a healthy form of coexistence, so you listen to them and tell them what you think and so on and you try to encourage people to think for themselves.”

So this exchange of ideas, exchange of cultural traditions, that has been part of Cherkaoui’s methodology for many years now can open space to find a “common truth”, perhaps, and this is what we’re seeing on stage. Attempts to find points of commonality as modern globalised humans (well men). The idea that the written information and visual information that Chomsky refers to can be represented through movement and the meaning discovered reflected back to the original subject feels deeply problematic here – and surely something a linguistics professor would take issue with. There’s something well meaning but a little shallow about the work that reflects (presumably unintentionally) Chomksy’s own approach to politics, as explained in an interview he gave to The Guardian in May of this year:

“(…) my point of view, there are two major categories of issues. There are the kind that are humanly important but intellectually pretty shallow. There are the kind that are intellectually quite deep and challenging, but don’t have the immediate human significance. If I had my choice, I’d rather stay on the second, but unfortunately the world won’t go away.”

This idea that it’s actually all terribly simple and, if we could all just listen to him because he knows the truth and, once we all agree that he is right, then we can get to on with the important work of sorting everything out… This idea seems to be at the centre of what Fractus V is trying to do. Chomsky’s words have been distilled by Cherkaoui here so we are left with only a few brief sound bites. Yet in taking Chomsky’s word as gospel, he has left little space for a real conversation in the work. There is no room to question or to warn of the dangers of following this humanist prophet.

Fractus V was performed at Sadler’s Wells. Click here for more details. 


William Drew

William Drew is a writer, narrative designer and dramaturg based in Brighton. He makes work at the intersection between live performance and gaming as Venice as a Dolphin and a Coney Associate. He is Associate Dramaturg of New Perspectives in Nottingham. He spent several years working in the Royal Court Theatre’s International and Literary Departments and has been a script reader for the National Theatre, Hampstead and Traverse Theatres. You can find out more about his work here:

Review: Fractus V at Sadler’s Wells Show Info

Produced by Eastman

Choreography by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui

Cast includes Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, Dimitri Jourde, Johnny Lloyd, Fabian Thomé Duten, Patrick Williams Seebacher

Original Music Yoshii, Woojae Park, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, Johnny Lloyd, Soumik Datta



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