A 7 Doigts de la Main production. Presented by the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival, with Tom Lightburn and le Théâtre la Seizième. At the Vancouver Playhouse on Thursday, January 22. Continues until January 24
The Playhouse audience didn’t just stand up with synchronized spontaneity at the closing bell of Séquence 8—it erupted. Montreal’s 7 Doigts de la Main delivered a hugely entertaining show, weaving circus arts, contemporary dance, and elements of low-key comedy into a bright and often seamless fabric. The focus throughout was on the chemistry of the troupe—two female, six male—and the exceptional degree of trust, care, and understanding they’ve developed in a piece that is as heartwarmingly human as its feats are mind-boggling.
Les 7 Doigts lets its artists talk—not only to each other, but to the public. The effect is to demystify, break down the fourth wall, and make the circus experience feel more participatory. Séquence 8’s “compère”, Colin Davis, spoke into a mike, delivered monologues, interviewed others, and conducted a cod quiz show with the audience. In the opening sequence Davis, alone and behind a desk, talked in a gauche way about how the artists wouldn’t be there if not for the audience.
But just as phrases like “We’re all connected” started to make toes curl, the words faded and the others ran on-stage and launched into dizzying floor acrobatics, performing leaps, dives, and saltos individually, in pairs, and in groups. The richness and fluency of the choreography by directors Shana Carroll and Sébastien Soldevila was extraordinary—and the contrast between the speed and precision of the movements and the loose, rambling nature of Davis’s monologue created a delicious irony.
The performers clearly enjoyed the hammy quality of the talking sequences, and played it up—as when cigar-box juggling Eric Bates, a bare-chested hunk, was interviewed by Davis about his spoof autobiography How to Live With the Boxes You’re Thinking Out Of. It was silly but engaging, and served to enhance his flawless display of skill both before and afterward, flipping and catching the boxes, even performing pirouettes while they were aloft.
To an extent, the playful talk replaced the humour of a traditional circus clown, and was often integrated with feats. The quiz sequence felt rather long and laboured, but was enlivened when Devin Henderson—with feigned reluctance—found new ways to propel himself to the top of a Chinese pole and ring a bell to mark each correct answer.
Among the artists, Alexandra Royer stood out, both for her airborne acrobatics on the Russian bar—a narrow fibreglass plank carried by two of the men—and her solo performance on a spinning aerial hoop. Kudos too to Guillaume Biron and Tom Amirati of France who, as Davis told us, only joined the troupe recently. It was in no way apparent. During the Korean teeter-board act, while performing awesome twists and somersaults, they rose so high they momentarily disappeared from view.
Les 7 Doigts’ audacious and inspiring Vancouver debut will surely change how audiences here think of circus as a multidisciplinary art form.