The potential of a great work lies within this ninety minutes of solemn and deeply sincere dance theatre. Fractus V is – unsurprisingly – fronted by five dancers, brought up in different styles, each possessing extraordinary movement qualities and matched by four musicians who bring very different virtuoso sounds to this unique collaboration. Taken together, here are nine men from nine nations whose individual contributions are mixed to form a global tapestry made from the building blocks of their indigenous artistic influences. It should have been a heady cocktail but that it is not a great work, merely a very good one, is entirely due to allowing self-indulgence to run unchecked in an episodic production, comprising over-long sequences that make the same point over and over again.  

© Filip VanRoe
© Filip VanRoe

Three sequences are especially in need of an edit. Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui has a predilection for including building structures as a key element of his work and, for awhile, the performers here appear to moonlight as carpet-fitters in a long sequence that has them laying large triangular-shaped panels edge-to-edge, as if constructing a giant jigsaw of a dance floor. The assembled shapes on the stage were not visible from the front rows of the stalls and so – to be blunt – it was no more interesting than watching workmen laying a laminate floor! In a highly predictable sequence, the panels were then placed upright in a precise semi-circular pattern before being cascaded down, “domino-style”, to knock the seated Cherkaoui off his chair - and off the stage - lying on the floor by the feet of some bemused audience members in row AA for some time before re-emerging.     

Two other sections, both parodying violence, were fascinating up to a point but they were overdone and easily surpassed the boredom determinant. In the first, Cherkaoui sat downstage, fiddling with what seemed to be a remote control, while, behind him, Dimitri Jourde was shot repeatedly by the other three men, his body reacting acrobatically to the imagined bullets biting into his flesh; later, the hip hop specialist, Patrick Williams Seebacher (known as Twoface in the world of street battles) bestrode the stage like a bullying colossus, doling out a “mock” beating to the other four dancers with punches, kicks and head-butts to every conceivable part of their anatomies. As with the gunshots, the movement quality of the four men being beaten (often in slow motion) was extraordinarily acrobatic as they crumpled into incredible positions; and it is clear that Cherkaoui used this faux violence to evidence his view of a fractured society. Some nervous laughter accompanied an eye-watering kick between the legs, but for the most part it was distinctly uncomfortable viewing; and although this was clearly the intention, it was a point that had been well made some time before the “beatings” ended. 

Some – often vaguely-heard – repeated political statements were part of the soundscape and these were the utterings of Noam Chomsky, a political activist and philosopher who argues for the necessity of an independent mind to overcome the daily diet of propaganda and media manipulation.

© Filip VanRoe
© Filip VanRoe
Railing against indoctrination is a valiant and ever-appropriate message and clearly – when one reads the programme notes – it is the fundamental inspiration for Cherkaoui’s latest work but it seemed to be an intention buried subliminally in the text and not boldly articulated in the headlines of this piece.

Eastman – a company, set up in 2010, as a production vehicle for Cherkaoui’s work – has assembled a mature equivalent of the BalletBoyz in an ensemble that is all-male and of a certain age: incredibly – given their fluid athleticism and hyperflexibility - Jourde is 41, Cherkaoui, 40, and the multi-talented jazz and lindy-hop dancer, Johnny Lloyd celebrated his 40th birthday on the day following these Sadler’s Wells’ shows. Fractus V is a testosterone-filled performance that is counter-intuitive to today’s cry for more gender diversity in dance. We already have the aforementioned Boyz and the famed Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, (a touring ballet company where men play both ballerinas and their partners). Set against these permanent examples of all-male dance companies, the only all-female equivalents I can immediately think of are Pan’s People and Lea Anderson’s The Cholmondeleys – both long since disbanded! 

Though I prickle at seeing yet another all-male show, these five guys are amazing dancers:  Cherkaoui performs a trade-mark rubbery, fluid solo and he and Fabian Thome Duten – a comparative youngster at 35 - use the triangular floorboards to stamp out a glorious flamenco duel as if a pair of dancing Andalusian bookends at either side of the stage. The four musicians (from Japan, Korea, India and Congo) combine to produce unique sounds and all nine performers end the show together in a beautiful polyphonic song. 

© Filip Van Roe
© Filip Van Roe

Cherkaoui must have a claim to be the most versatile dancer in the world; his crossovers into many dance and movement genres are legendary, from the Kung-Fu of Shaolin Monks to Argentine Tango, Ballet, Kuchipudi and Flamenco – a dance form in which he had already shown considerable expertise in Dunas (back in 2009, with María Pagés). He is the master of breaking down boundaries to create innovation from the fusion of dance styles and the gaps in between. Although it is in need of an edit, Fractus V continues this journey of enquiry into the expanded possibilities of dance. It is an exciting adventure from this man of all talents.