October 1, 2014

in Circus, Performance Art

Circus Performance

Les 7 Doigts de la Main

Direction and Choreography by Shana Carroll and Gypsy Snider
Acrobatic Coach Sébastien Soldevila

Cutler Majestic Theater
Boston, MA

October 1 – 12, 2014

With Lucas Boutin, Hou Kai, LJ Marles, Diego Rodarte-Amor, Fletcher Sanchez, Renaldo Williams, Naomie Zimmermann-Pichon

Diving Through Hoops in 'Traces'

Diving Through Hoops
in “Traces”
Photo: Larry Rosenberg
Courtesy of Les 7 Doigts de la Main
and ArtsEmerson

A first-rate acrobatic entertainment couched in a subtle narrative about survival, self-revelation and mutual interdependency.

I had the great pleasure of seeing ArtsEmerson’s presentation of Les 7 Doigts de la Main (The Seven Fingers of the Hand) a few years ago when they brought their show PSY to town. It was dressed in a gently embracing narrative about psychotherapy and was very funny in its offhand takes and goofs on that venerable institution. Meanwhile, the acrobats who dressed as patients and therapists also got to do amazing feats. The ones I remember most vividly from that show were the runs up and down the vertical poles with singles or pairs of players hanging in unbelievable positions in between the unbelievably fluid scamperings up what seemed to be, well, just a pole.

Traces has a somewhat more casual pace than PSY, perhaps just a touch too casual, at the outset. One of its themes is self-revelation and each of the young performers (all are between twenty and thirty with most hovering around twenty-four) giving little, sometimes funny, summaries about themselves. I got to meet most of the performers after the show and they confirmed that what they said about themselves was more or less autobiographical, not a fictional construction for characters onstage.

In addition to age and country and city of origin (the seven performers come, as I recall, from the US, Canada, Mexico, England, France and China), they gave little bon mots. Diego Rodarte-Amor, from Mexico, identified himself humorously as flirtatious. Naomie Zimmermann-Pichon added that she didn’t believe in love at first sight. And Hou Kai thought that one of his attributes was being cool. It was indeed brief revelation, but funny, and gave a little window into these amazing young performers.

Les 7 Doigts de la Main emanates from Montreal where the great grandmother of this style of circus, Cirque du Soleil, had it start. With shows inspired by a general narrative theme, but in an extremely relaxed way, this Montreal-style of circus has caught on widely. Smaller and more intimate than Cirque du Soleil, Les 7 Doigts de la Main shows also are a bit hipper, and more irreverent and offbeat.

'Vertical Pole' in 'Traces'

Vertical Pole
in “Traces”
Photo: Valérie Remise
Courtesy of Les 7 Doigts de la Main
and ArtsEmerson

It took awhile for the show to break into serious acrobatics, but when it did, it went on fire. The gentle pace at the beginning, and recapitulated at various points throughout the show, ultimately made for interesting dramatic contrast when the high flying began.

There were lots of great stunts. Vertical poles were used, not quite as extensively as in PSY, but effectively. The scampering up and down was not quite as evident, but the dramatic face front slide with no hands, arresting with legs only at the very bottom, was a breath catcher, as were the full arm extensions sideways from the bar, seemingly impossible strength required for such a trick.

It took awhile for the show to break into serious acrobatics, but when it did, it went on fire.

Diego Rodarte-Amor, if I am not mistaken, was the expert on the big ring in which he swirled and careened like a human wheel, rotating like a giant top at every possible angle. Thankfully he didn’t roll off the stage.

There were various routines with skateboards and with basketballs, a nice urban touch, but the real drama settled in with some of the later acts.

Striking among these were Hou Kai’s quite amazing Diablo routine. For those who don’t remember what a Diablo is, it’s a rotating top that rides sideways along a string. The Diablo master then twists, bends, swings and dances with the string to make the Diablo fly around, turn around, go high in the air, or, as Hou Kai showed with adeptness, play with one or more Diablo friends. He had two and three going at once, twisting and spinning in the most incredible ways.

Human Wheel in 'Traces'

Human Wheel
in “Traces”
Photo: Michael Meseke
Courtesy of Les 7 Doigts de la Main
and ArtsEmerson

Each of these performers is a gymnastic polymath, able to flip, jump, dance, climb and do whatever else comes along. Hou Kai, at another point, did a rapid fire series of handsprings across the stage, rat a tat tat fast, faster than the eye could see.

Naomie Zimmermann-Pichon is the only woman in the show and she entirely holds her own. Expert in a full range of techniques, she had a lot of moments to shine, but perhaps shone most brightly, decked in a scarlet dress, spinning on a pair of climbing-balancing ropes. It was deft, graceful and exotic.

Major jumping, via a cantilevered seesaw onto which two guys landed, sent their compatriot flying high in the air, doing twists and somersaults onto a landing platform which other compatriots moved as the flying guy came down.

And finally there were the stacked hoops, at first one or two through which the whole team dove, sachayed, leaned, leaped, twisted. And then, more hoops were added, eventually reaching up to the ceiling, five or six high, with sequences of the performers bouncing through, sometimes aided, sometimes on their own steam, backwards, forwards, upside down, you name it.

And then, more hoops were added, eventually reaching up to the ceiling, five or six high, with sequences of the performers bouncing through, sometimes aided, sometimes on their own steam, backwards, forwards, upside down, you name it.

They didn’t always make it – Hou Kai tried some amazingly high and difficult entries and knocked the whole thing down. But part of the sweetness of the show was that, oh well, not a big deal, he just went back and tried again a couple of times. It added a nice flavor.

With those moments of imperfection and with the sense that each of these performers was opening up, becoming vulnerable to their fellow performers and to the audience, there was a feeling of great sympathy and ease leading the audience to cheer with even greater enthusiasm when he finally made it through. In this sense, the performers became emblems of the viewers, distilled versions of the non-acrobatic attendees; as these incredible performers reveal in their we’re just ordinary folks narratives, each of us, in the end, is interesting, differently capable, and also, imperfect.

It was a great pleasure to shake the hands of these wonderful performers who, in casual meeting, are very much just charming young people, friendly, open, nice. That they can do amazing things with diablos, poles, ropes, seesaws and rings is an added benefit. Their wonderful artistry reminds us of the blessings of talent and the rewards of hard work. And, as a group, in this delightful combination of personal narrative and striking collective accomplishment, they remind us of the reliance we have on one another.

This is a very fun, offbeat, highly entertaining, ninety minutes, a wonderful encapsulation of Montreal-style staged circus theatre.

– BADMan

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Danish Wolok October 11, 2014 at 7:01 pm

Especially pleasureable while viewing this amazing performance was also experiencing the acrobatic nature of the mind of the reviewer, detectable through his visible reactions, which I could sense while sitting next to him. No less extraordinary was it in its virtuosity than that of the performers on stage, whose acrobatic manifestations were outward in nature, though revelatory, too, of their inner being, as the reviewer has made plain. So sweet it was to experience simultaneously two acrobatic performances, having been provided a free ticket by my friend, the reviewer himself. Afterwards, when questioned by a member of the theater staff I confessed that I realized the whole performance, impossible of production in reality was, in fact, a dream which the performers had induced in the members of the audience. I cannot be fooled. No one can do what they did. But my friend’s mental acrobatics are, indeed, part of reality, dazzling those who swim in the interstices between philosophy and fantasy, meditation and
a-muse-ment. A truly unforgettable experience, which shall never leave me.

Culture vulture October 22, 2014 at 8:59 pm

Dear Badman, What a wonderful and “right on” review of this performance which I also had the pleasure of seeing! I wonder if we both saw it at the Sunday matinee? It is such a pleasure it is to read your reviews. They are beautifully written and incredibly accurate. Thank you Badman for all that you do for for the world of culture. I appreciate your efforts a lot. A fellow culture vulture admirer

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