With boundaries between art forms becoming increasingly permeable, this year International Dance Festival Birmingham has included the phenomenal Canadian circus pioneers Les 7 Doigts De La Main in their line-up. Programming Director Paul Burns is a great advocate of bringing a wide range of movement-based performance to the IDFB. He has clearly defined his position on the importance of including circus within the festival offerings on their website.
Séquence 8 – perhaps titled in reference to the permutations of possible connections between the 8 performers. Or because it is the company’s 8th creation – brings a fascinating blend of highly stylised choreography and nonchalant functional activity to the stage at the REP, in the only UK dates before a stint at Sadlers Wells this autumn.
Raising whoops and cheers – and, at one point, a mexican wave – from the audience seated before the REP’s main stage, the company brings the direct communal atmosphere of a traditional circus into the proscenium arch venue better than anyone I’ve encountered. What is more, the text used within the show is so knowingly comic, meta-theatrical, and integrated so tightly within the physical framework of the piece, that they also succeed in bringing a contemporary theatre sensibility to their circus better than anyone I’ve come across.
Formed in 2002, Les 7 Doigts De La Main (which translates as ‘the 7 fingers of the hand’, leading to the common moniker ‘The 7 Fingers’) gained prominence in the UK when an excerpt of their show Traces was performed as part of the 2009 Royal Variety Performance. Séquence 8 includes elements of the chinese hoop diving which captured the nation’s attention then, (and it still makes me wince as Colin Davis leaps through the tower of hoops to land on his head), however this is just a tiny segment of what these world class artists achieve.
As props magically appear and disappear or subtly transform in an understated realm of the fantastic, exquisite feats of virtuosity also arise out of the blue to surprise and astound; rather than following a ‘build-up to the big trick’ dramaturgy, individual demonstrations of prowess evolve naturally from the ensemble. When Alexandra Royer‘s liquid equilibristics on the Russian Bar become a sudden high-flying somersault I am left with a feeling of ‘did I just see that?!’; when the wonderful play between Ugo Dario, Maxim Laurin, and their Korean teeterboard leaps into unspotted exchanges of position my muscles clench and my breath stops.
This is a show that makes me happy to be alive; to be a human; to have the power to Be, to Do and to Play. The show is full of eloquent visual gags and, from the tongue-in-cheek moments of dialogue, we are given a laughing insight into the thought-process behind this show, and a comment on stereotypical responses to contemporary art. Life has no clear why’s and wherefore’s, and this circus reflects that, whilst acknowledging its own pre-conceived nature.
With most of the ‘individual acts’ within Séquence 8, the other company members continuously both support and challenge as an ensemble. When Eric Bates launches into his cigar box juggling to the fast-paced rhythms of Tunng’s Bullets (which used to be my tight wire track. My heart bursts) we see the focus and range that won him a Bronze at the prestigious Cirque De Demain last year, as well as the precision and dedication of the entire crew.
During the faux-interval – in which the teeterboard is set for Gold Prize winners 2012, Dario and Laurin – the audience are presented with a series of multiple-choice questions to ‘check our understanding’ of the show: Laurin’s static trapeze work, set above a writhing mat of bodies who lift and lower him as one was fast, slick and unexpected, giving a great impression of spontaneous improvisation. We are asked:
C) Not so hungry
I am impressed by how readily the audience shout out their gleeful answers; we Brits aren’t always so amenable, and it’s a testament to the direction from 2 of the 7 Fingers founders, Shana Carroll and Sébastien Soldevila, that we feel so comfortable to share the performers’ slightly mad world.
In the ‘second half’ we see the specialist skills of Tristan Nielsen and Camille Legris in their adagio acrobalance, finding stillness immediately on each pose. A structural ‘reset’ provides a welcomed reprise of Bates’ act, which develops into a live looped rhythmic composition through the microphone, providing a beatbox arena for an incredible headspin and a Birmingham special rap.
By the time Devin Henderson reaches his chinese pole act, perhaps the only moment where we see an extended performance of one artist alone onstage, I can feel my attention has begun to wane. It is revived somewhat by Royer’s vertiginous whirling in her aerial dance and hoop number but, though both acts are beautiful and skilled in themselves, they feel rather shoehorned into the overall picture after the intricate connections of everything that has gone before. Maybe I’ve reached sensory overload.
In a final acrobatic dance number we are impressed again with a choreography of symmetry and separation, synchronicity and individuality. There is little doubt that this is world class performance, whether framed as theatre, dance or circus. I cannot help thinking that Dario’s recurrent ‘ghosts’ are those of the circus tradition, still present and influencing the structures and ambiance of Séquence 8, in all its developed nature, if you know where to look. But I also know the creators would laugh at me for putting so strict a meaning to anything they have presented here!