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Eastman // Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui

November 19, 2016


Reviewed November 18, 2016

NAC Theatre, Ottawa

(Repeat performance Saturday, Nov 19, 7:30 p.m.)


Photography by Filip Van Roe

It is serendipitously significant that Belgian choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui should present a work in Ottawa this week that is so all-inclusive, featuring nine different nationalities performing a phenomenally tight dialogue of wholeness in a strong message of how beautiful a blending of cultural difference can be.

Significant in that it comes on the cusp of the uncertain future Americans–and in fact the entire world–face with the incoming U.S. presidency, which so far smacks of racism, division and exclusivity.

Fractus V is undoubtedly an enlightening and innovative powerful work of art, which received a standing ovation from a full house Friday.

Five male dancers, including Cherkaoui, and four male musicians transform the stage into a mesmerizing theatre of exotic sound, passionate movement and thought-provoking discourse.

Cherkaoui says this nearly one-and-a-half-hour work stems from a shorter piece he presented for the 40th anniversary of the Pina Bausch’s Wuppertal Tanztheater in 2014 called Fractus. Inspired by Jewish-American philosopher Noam Chomsky, the performance delved into the fracture between the individual and society. This longer work, Fractus V, further explores information manipulation and propaganda.

It features five very different contemporary dancers interacting to produce an intense piece of theatre that is interspersed with spoken word and live music.  

And what is so admirable is how harmonious the worldly troupe is: a Parisian dancer with a circus background, an American Lindy Hop dance producer influenced by African American dance culture, a Spanish flamenco choreographer, and a German hip-hop and breakdance artist with a flair for urban style. Their individual styles are apparent throughout, and yet they often dance as one, sometimes appearing as one many-limbed body.

The sound, produced right on stage, is hypnotic and other worldly, with a distinctly eastern flavor and a deep percussive rhythm that is universally touching. Musicians include a geomungo (traditional Korean stringed instrument) artist and composer, a British Indian virtuoso Sarod (19 stringed fretless instrument) player, a taiko drummer, percussionist and kokyu (Japanese violin) performer, and a Congolese singer and musician.

The dialogue fills in any doubts we may have about Cherkaoui’s message about movement and change and information overload: “Of course the stuff is out there. You’re just going to have to search to find it.” We hear morsels of discourse, sometimes merely a whisper, that hints of fanaticism, thought control, Hitler, Orwell, American and British societies. “It is becoming increasingly difficult to control people by force,” the voice tells us. And we hear a serious discussion on the futility of worry and our addiction to compulsive thinking. “There are times when you simply must stop thinking. Leave your mind alone to quiet itself.”

A surprising feature of the work is a portable wooden floor, constructed of triangles, which are moved and shoved around the stage and lifted into vertical props. The floor is a design to marvel at, changing shape and color (the underside is black), evoking new scenes and new moods for the dancers. At one point, the triangular pieces are placed on end and fall in a sequence like dominoes. The way the pieces of the floor connect, the way the people connect, there is a repetitive emphasis on shape formation. Especially with the dancers’ arms, which twist and bend to create ever-changing patterns and shapes. This coming together of disparate parts into a whole is a constant theme.

A startling and yet cleverly choreographed scene has a performer being “shot” repeatedly with a hand gun. A violent assault of three dancers in a slow-motion fight scene features accompanying sounds of cracking bones and breaking body parts.

Cherkaoui’s company, Eastman, is fairly new on the dance scene, but has proved to be a showcase for the choreographer’s bold and daring work. Unafraid to examine the human condition, Cherkaoui’s creations are his message and the movement his dancers perform reflect his truth.

The way the dancers twist their bodies around each other, their arms enfolded in such a way that it is difficult to discern where one body ends and the other begins, and the oddly elastic contorting body are some of his signatures. Neither is it unusual for Cherkaoui to bring in strains of the classical with traditional music of the Far East and the Middle East, as well as music of the Sephardic Jews.

This is dance rare and unique and guaranteed to delight and enrich.


From → Contemporary

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