Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Les 7 doigts perform more than 7 wonders at ArtsEmerson

Les 7 doigts de la main (that's "The 7 Fingers of the Hand") are back in town.  Through Sunday at ArtsEmerson. 

There, shouldn't that be review enough?

Anyone who caught Psy, the troupe's first appearance in the Hub last spring, knows what I mean: there are so many delightful thrills on tap in a 7 doigts show that critique seems . . . well, simply beside the point.

I suppose I could chew for a minute or two on the conceptual interest of this millennial circus variant from Montréal (where else?).  You shouldn't expect sequins or spangles, or lions or tigers or bears, or even much in the way of glamorous display from the Fingers (as I like to call them).  Like so many millennials, they take the stage in slacker duds, with confident, low-key DIY attitude, and they mostly build their circus from scratch - like a kit from IKEA.

They are into concept - just not the "high concept" of Cirque du Soleil, which is always claiming their shows are about the rainforest, or the Higgs boson, and then trot out the Flying Wallendas anyway.  No, the Fingers prefer small-scale, quirky concepts, usually rooted in theatre-school psychology (think A Chorus Line goes to the circus).  Psy, for instance, was putatively about acrobatics as an escape from phobias and fears; the current casual extravaganza, Sequence 8, is likewise supposedly about the sparks that fly when personalities clash.

Well, maybe.  The show, I have to report, ends up amiably picking up a variety of concepts (a radio show, bits of standup, a striptease)  and then shrugging and setting them down again. Which was fine, really.  To be honest, the program loses a little steam after the halfway mark, but I was still indulgent of the troupe's half-morphing of the circus into theatre, as the results generally had a funkier, more intimate feel than Psy (which sometimes felt coolly narcissistic). Perhaps this was because many of these performers have been working together for years, and so you could feel something of their own personal dynamics - the tension and the affection - in their routines (maybe that was what they meant by that clash-of-personalities stuff).

It also helps that most of the Fingers are not only hotties, but reliable comedians, if not actual actors  (although a few can conjure moments of pathos).  And that's all they need to be.  For in the end, the circus is always about the thrill of the daring young man (or woman) on the flying trapeze (or some similar, improvised apparatus).  In short, "theatre" stops where the tightrope begins. But if nothing else, the Fingers' off-hand, casual set-ups actually enhance the shock of their derring-do, as their sudden virtuosity seems to erupt out of nowhere, and just as quickly vanish into air.  Indeed, they occasionally make a mistake - or at least seem to (they immediately run the bit till they get it right), which only  gives a fresh edge of danger to their daredevil exploits.

But be warned: you may begin to think, as Sequence 8 unfolds, that the normal rules of physics have been suspended, and that gravity is all nonsense now, so frequently do these acrobats spill forward into flips and spins of every type.  But don't try this stuff at home!  Leave it to the professionals.  And trust me, as you watch you will experience amazement (Eric Bates' cigar-box juggling), enchantment (Maxim Laurin's sinuous turn on the trapeze), and even terror (Alexandra Royer's seemingly mile-high tumbles on the bouncing Russian beam).

I myself left the performance in something like a blissful trance, with only one question still lingering in my mind:

What the heck does their name mean?

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