Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

July 12, 2018

REVIEW: Jacob’s Pillow, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s Eastman

Jacob’s Pillow, Becket, MA
through July 15, 2018
by Josephine Sarnelli
Photo by Christopher Duggan

Eastman is not to be missed! At first glance, some dance enthusiasts might question attending a one-piece program that explores the political philosophy of Noam Chomsky, an American activist. Of even greater concern might be the cohesiveness of a venue performed by an all-male cast of five dancers with very different dance backgrounds and four musicians, in total representing nine different cultures. However, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s “Fractus V” was anything but boring or disjunct.

The acapella opening is a dramatic blending of male voices. The mood quickly changes to discourse as the dance movements become chaotic. As the name of the program suggests, there is an underlying theme of brokenness; there exists a schism between the individual and society.

A humorous approach is used to introduce the audience to Chomsky’s belief that freedom of speech must be used as a defense against social propaganda. Three dancers layer their hands to speak as one, reminiscence of the multi-limbed goddess Durga. 

Cherkaoui periodically builds a community from the many cultures represented by his performers. He accomplishes this artistically through a variety of dance genres and songs sung in many languages. He also physically “builds” a community with 23 large triangular boards that are moved several times throughout the production to create flooring and backdrops. Fabian Thomé Duten performed an outstanding Flamenco routine using the triangles as sound boards for his footwork. 

Violence is introduced in two sets. Three dancers repeatedly “shoot” a victim, while the fifth dancer placidly remains seated. Subsequently, one dancer repeatedly attacks the other four dancers in pure physical violence; the cracking of bones and punches are disturbingly accentuated through sound effects and the illusion of slow motion. These segments illustrate that violent force is not sufficient to control the masses; violence can be ignored. The evolving twentieth century strategy has been to use thought manipulation as a means of control.

One of the highlights of the evening was an Asian routine that featured singing and hambone. The percussive use of their hands slapping parts of their own body was a creative take on an old dance form. 

The original music score performed by the vocalists and musicians was every bit as entertaining as the dancing. The 90-minute program has enough quality music that Eastman should consider producing a soundtrack.

Ernest Hemingway said, “The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places.” “Fractus V” forces the audience to consider personal responsibility, independent thinking and our global community. By the enthusiastic standing ovation, it appears that the audience connected with Cherkaoui’s plan for growth.