The inescapable relevance of Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s ‘Fractus V’ at Jacob’s Pillow
Becket — Anyone who thinks that dance is ephemeral, that dance doesn’t have the emotional and political power of literature, art and music, think again.
Great art is layered. Form, structure and narrative weave together to convey meaning that is both implicit and explicit.
In Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s “Fractus V” at Jacob’s Pillow, the message is philosophical and political, inspired by Noam Chomsky’s ideas on language and political control. When you can’t control people by force, you can control them by manipulating minds through language.
The relevance to our particular moment in history is inescapable.
But Cherkaoui’s message is also embedded in his form and structure. Musicians, music and dance come from all corners of the world, both geographically and culturally. They layer upon one another, flamenco onto Indian drone onto Korean dulcimer, with Congolese song in French over that. This layering implicitly conveys that we are all, everywhere, subject to the forces that manipulate minds and exert control. It also suggests that we are in this together, and that, together, we can resist.
The effects are both gorgeous and disturbing. Where are our boundaries? What are we hearing and seeing? We as audience experience viscerally the dislocation that Cherkaoui and his company of dancers and musicians are creating onstage and in our ears.
The dance itself moves into the violence that erasing boundaries allows. A man is tortured and killed slowly and graphically onstage. Musical instruments provide the sounds of breaking bones, screams and gunshots. Some people get up and leave the theater.
When I was a therapist working with people who had experienced trauma, they sometimes feared to tell me about their experiences. Would it hurt me? Drive me away? I would tell them that I am an unbreakable vessel. Now I’m not an unbreakable vessel, but I was able to be one for them. That allowed them the freedom to tell me their stories.
The stories in this dance are sometimes horrific to experience, and yet they are happening to people, somewhere, all the time.
Here are my impressions, scribbled in the dark, as the dance unfolded.
Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s Eastman performs in the Ted Shawn Theatre at Jacob’s Pillow, 358 George Carter Road, Becket, Massachusetts, through Sunday, July 15. For tickets and more information, see the Berkshire Edge calendar, go online to jacobspillow.org or call the box office at (413) 243-0745.