Les 7 doigts de la main


Review of Traces Traces, the production by Les 7 Doigts de la Main at this year’s International Festival of Arts & Ideas, presents an varied mix of incredible circus tricks, busy choreography and musical interludes, blending rougher street effects with elements that are more lighthearted. The troupe’s stated intention of incorporating harsher themes—as evidenced by the title’s reference to what we leave after we die or after our very civilization is gone—could be seen in bits like the drawing of chalk outlines around fallen bodies, a voice-over invoking fall-out from nuclear attack, and theatrics that seemed to involve edgier interactions such as playful punches, rough-housing, and taking aim at one another, together with inscriptions about memory.

The upshot of the show is that the kind of acrobatic theater the group specializes in can be adapted to different moods and occasions. Against the sense of fatality in the world at large, the troupe offers a banded-together sense of purpose, even as the show made considerable efforts to differentiate the players. Introduced by speaking individually into a hanging mike—like the kind familiar from the boxing ring—the members of the cast were also presented by typed fact sheets that, as projections, gave us the vital statistics of each member fleshed out by three adjectives to describe personality or attitude. There’s even a moment at the end where each member presents themselves as if contestants of a reality show, beseeching votes from the audience. The combined effect is to convince us of the reality of the “characters”—which is to say the presented personalities of the cast: Lucas Boutin, Mathieu Cloutier, Hou Kai, LJ Maries, Fletcher Sanchez, Renaldo Williams, Naomie Zimmerman-Pichon.

As contributors to the overall effect, each also has their specialty, though in the fast paced action it can be difficult to keep track of who does what. There is a blend of exhilarating, gravity-defying stunts in climbing poles and leaping between poles, with interludes such as a song Cloutier plays on guitar, and each member takes turns at a rough-hewn piano, treating it as a means to compete further. Some of the more lyrical aspects of the show fall to its only female member—her ballet-like movements suspended in space was a high point of tension and grace, and her solo turn with a settee and book—you’ve never seen anyone treat furniture that way though every child perhaps tries—is fun; she also engages in a charming pas de deux with Renaldo Williams early in the show. Other memorable escapades include the entire company working out a delightful routine with skateboards to a jazzy arrangements of “Paper Moon,”a stunning ride on a spinning hoop, or cyr wheel, intricate work on aerial straps, wild vaults from a teeterboard, and, my favorite segment, the endlessly satisfying and inventive leaps through rings in varied configurations and postures.

The troupe may feel that their kind of theater should be able to make more of a point, but to hear the gasps of delight of the audience and the glee of many of the children present is to see the point of such theater. The purpose of 7 Doigts de la Main is to inspire us with defiance of gravity, with amazing feats that most humans can only dream of doing, and to let us exult in what seems effortless precision, strength, agility and camaraderie.

International Festival of Arts & Ideas presents

Traces Les 7 Doigts de la Main

Direction and choreography: Shana Carroll, Gypsy Snider; Assistant to the Artistic Director: Francisco Cruz; on stage: Lucas Boutin, Mathieu Cloutier, Hou Kai, LJ Maries, Fletcher Sanchez, Renaldo Williams, Naomie Zimmeran-Pichon; Touring Team: Tour Manager: Anna Cassel; Sound: Sébastien Marion; Lights: Olivier Rosa; Rigger: Stéphane Beauchet; Artistic Crew: Lights: Nol van Genuchten; Costumes: Manon Desmarais; Set & Porps Original Design: Flavia Hevia; Set & Props Adaptation, Music & Soundscape: Les 7 doigts de la main; Video: Paul Ahad; André Biron; Les 7 doigts de la main; Props Adaptation: Bruno Tassé; Head Coaches: Jérôme Le Baut and Francisco Cruz; Coach for Sofa and Aerial Strap Acts: Isabelle Chassé; Cyr Wheel Coach: Krin Haglund; Piano Coach: Sophie Houle et Francisco Cruz; Stage Manager: Patrick Loubert; Musics for Hand to Hand and Aerial Acts: Seth Stachowski

University Theatre, York Street June 24-27, 8pm; June 28, 1pm & 5pm

Seeing is Believing

Like Circa, the acrobatic-dance-theater troupe that visited last year’s Arts & Ideas Festival, Sequence 8 is all about defying the limitations we normally expect the human body to obey. Unlike Circa, Sequence 8, by Les 7 doigts de la main ("seven fingers on one hand")  is more purely entertaining, much less interpretive. Indeed, with Colin Davis acting as comic MC, the show winks at symbolic significance and the interpretive buzz of on-the-air commentary, as when Davis “interviews” Eric Bates, a wonder of dexterity and timing, about his “new book.” Davis has great audience rapport and adds to the show a nice flair for deflating pretensions. The skills on display are truly astounding and there are many visceral thrills at seeing what this talented and rigorously trained group are able to do. The show begins with acrobatic dancing on a bare stage and, though relatively tame in terms of daring, the expressive power of seeing spot-on tumbling and flying leaps in the midst of choreographed movement provides an immense charge. The show starts in a joyous manner and proceeds to inspire and amaze.

Each viewer will walk away with a different favorite sequence, I expect. But there’s no way not to be awed by Devin Henderson. Like some comic-book film super-hero, he seems able to fly, swoop, leap and land with no sense of strain or even of weight. Watch him ascend a pole as though he had reversed the pull of gravity. Watch him leap through hoops in a variety of approaches and configurations—it’s hard to explain why seeing this done so fluidly and effectively is so damn satisfying. One might like to give it a symbolic meaning beyond its sheer skill and bravado, and I suppose it amounts to seeing the will and the body so fully one in such a split second of impressive precision.

Or check out the astounding Alexandra Royer who gets the gasps going early in the show with her stunts on the Russian bar, leaping high, higher, flipping, turning and landing at the exact spot she started. Much later in the show, she works with a hoop and rope way above the stage, lit dramatically. Her work, and the beautifully choreographed trapeze work by Maxim Laurin—which involves interaction with the rest of the troupe as a sea of hands and bodies—are the more poetic moments in the show, but most routines have a kind of subtext that makes them more than stunts. A good example is Laurin and Ugo Dario using a teeter-totter to send each other catapulting high above the stage. To step back from the sheer brilliance of their skill is to see an image of, as they say, the cause-and-effect, give-and-take action and reaction of any kind of human interaction.

Then there’s Bates and his boxes. Or as he says, his routine is inside the box you’ve got to think outside of. Working with precise movements and exact timing, his dance with gravity takes the form of juggling a trio of boxes, making them seem alive rather than inert, yet finding them always exactly where he wants them to be. As with a magic trick, one would like to see his routine replayed in slow motion to “get” fully what he’s doing. In real time, we watch a melding of mind and matter that is enthralling.

As well, every stunt demonstrates the necessity of working together and the great benefits of finding a supportive group. At various times in the show I found myself musing on how such unusual talents would be wasted without the right setting. Davis refers to this aspect in his amusing opening monologue: without an audience there’s no show, and without a show what would we get from looking at an empty stage. Sequence 8 gives the audience plenty to see, and there’s an engaging sense that the troupe is watching us too, to see how we react and to gauge what impresses us most.

There’s one more show this afternoon. Go see it, and be prepared to be made giddy with the high spirits of the high-flying and talent-flaunting troupe that is Les  7 Doigts de la Main.


International Festival of Arts & Ideas presents

Sequence 8 Les 7 doigts de la main

Production and artistic direction: Shana Carroll, Isabelle Chassé, Patrick Léonard, Gypsy Snider, Sébastien Soldevilla, Samuel Tétreault

Direction: Shana Carroll & Sébastien Soldevilla

Cast: Eric Bates, Ugo Dario, Colin Davis, Devin Henderson, Alexander Royer, Maxim Laurin, Camille Legris, Tristan Nielsen

June 27 & 28 at 8pm June 29 at 2pm Shubert Theater