Stage Door Review
Saturday, December 15, 2018
written and directed by Gypsy Snider
Les 7 Doigts de la main, CAA Theatre, Toronto
December 12, 2018-January 6, 2019;
☛ Touring North America until April 3, 2019 – see below
“You made every day a celebration”
Montreal’s Les 7 Doigts de la main (The 7 Fingers) has been functioning as a kind of anti-Cirque du Soleil ever since its founding in 2002. Whereas CdS puts an emphasis on grandiose sets and costumes, Les 7 Doigts takes a minimalist approach to décor that places the emphasis on the circus acts themselves. Whereas CdS features a parade of separate specialist acts, Les 7 Doigts has a small troupe who all engage in multiple circus disciplines. Les 7 Doigts’s latest show Réversible is a perfect example of the group’s approach. For many the unglamourized, up close and personal circus skills of Les 7 Doigts will impress true lovers of circus arts more than will the theatrical lavishness of an average CdS show.
The only set used in Réversible, designed by Ana Cappelluto, is composed of three movable walls that together have two doors, two large windows and one small basement-level window. On one side, they look like the broken down, stuccoed walls of any average village in Central or South America or southern Europe. On the other side, they look like the walls of a cheap motel room, with inexpensive wooden panelling, molding and fixtures. The fact that the walls are reversible gives the show’s title one of its meanings.
The other meaning derives from director/choreographer Gypsy Snider’s concept for the show. She has had the eight performers research their family histories. Before the action begins the performers step up to a mic and dedicate their performance to one or more of their grandparents, most of whom grew up in humble circumstances but persevered and came to live the life they chose. Through determination and strength of will they thus reversed their circumstances. While it is seldom evident to the audience how a particular circus act reflects a personal story, the point is rather that the performers, presented as ordinary young people in ordinary street clothes, are using their talents to tell a family story and the result is that even the most common acts are staged with an unfamiliar, personal twist.
The fact that the Réversible troupe consists of only eight artists – four male and for female – and that Gypsy Snider not only developed the show’s concept but is both its director and choreographer means that the show is marked by an uncommonly cohesive unity of movement. After the verbal acknowledgements, the show begins with the eight executing Snider’s vibrant hip-hop, breakdance-inspired choreography. The dancing involves increasing athleticism and eventually evolves into circus acts like tumbling and hand-to-hand.
The first true circus act to emerge from the general dance is Maria Del Mar Reyes’ hand-balancing act. She moves from a twisting solo floor dance to a platform fitted with handstand canes where she elegantly moves from one impossible pose to the next. As she performs her routine, the rest of the troupe echoes her movements in synchronized modern dance.
Next Emi Vauthey entertains with a combination of contortion and hula hoop spinning, which involves rotating hoops not just around the waist abut on both ankles and wrists. Vauthey is especially excellent at ghosting in which the hoop appears to remain absolutely still while her hands move all about it and grasp it in various places. She even does this with two hoops so well that they both seem to be floating in air while she merely touches them.
Soon the three-piece wall breaks up and begins to move in ever-changing patterns with Vincent Jutras apparently chasing Jérémi Levesque through this evolving landscape. Part of this chase rushing through doors, jumping through windows and leaping over walls looks very much like parkour, except that Jutras is on skateboard and Levesque is on foot. Jutras, as it happens, is the prime proponent of a new circus skill called HoopSkate that combines skateboarding, with acrobatics and hoop-diving. Sometimes he will shoot his skateboard ahead and tumble until he lands on it again while it is still moving. Levesque’s main discipline is hoop-diving. At one point he dives through two windows of the set arranged parallel to each other but three feet apart. Even more amazing, a colleague takes a medium-sized picture frame of the wall and Levesque dives backwards through it. The movement of the walls, of the rest of the troupe and of the two performers is so well choreographed that the circus acts appear as just part of the general chase.
The married couple in the troupe, Émilie and Julien Silliau have an amusing scene set with the walls presenting their interior sides. The two repeat one of the conversations of Mr. and Mrs. Smith from Ionesco’s absurdist play The Bald Soprano (1950) perhaps to reflect the unhappy marriage of one or both of their grandparents. This inane dispute takes a dramatic turn when the two assert their personalities – he with cracking one, then two whips, she with flinging open one, then two fans. There is a delightful interplay between the cracking of his whips and the snapping open of her fans which simultaneously also become objects for juggling.
Julien Silliau’s main discipline is the German Wheel, which he sometimes treats as if it were a Cyr Wheel by grasping the floorward facing hoop with his hands. He does an extraordinary routine that includes back coining. What is most unusual is that Snider decides to enclose the wheel with the three walls in a U-formation. German Wheel routines are normally performed in an unconfined space. To see the wheel confined, demonstrates not only the strength of the performer but his absolute control in keeping the wheel’s coining within such tight bounds.
The show contains three juggling acts which are all very different. In the first Natasha Patterson combines juggling an increasing number of red balls with the techniques of rhythmic gymnastics such as throwing a ball high in the air and catching it with the feet after a tumble. A humorous scene has her race through the various opening in the three walls as they rotate like a windmill as she juggles and tumbles or leaps through the walls’ various openings.
The second juggling scene begins with Julien Silliau but eventually involves the entire cast in juggling an ever increasing number of ball caps that flip from hand to elbow to knee to head and back in a routine that looks so natural it seems improvised but is, in fact, tightly choreographed.
The third juggling scene involves Hugo Ragetly, who proves he can juggle a large quantity of little white balls. His specialty, however, unlike most jugglers, is in causing the balls to roll around his neck, down his arms or across his chest before catching them. He does this with only three balls so elegantly that it looks like the balls have a life of their own in coursing around his body rather than that he is actually manipulating them.
Snider makes some unusual staging choices that pay off in different ways. In both the three walls are arranged as a single long wall with the exterior side facing the audience. In one scene she has Émilie Silliau on aerial rope and Emi Vauthey on aerial silk do synchronized routines. Both conclude with the two women windmilling down their apparatus, but because the wall is in place we don’t see them dismount. The unnerving effect is that two disappear behind the wall seeming to windmill downwards indefinitely.
In another act, Snider has Jérémi Levesque and Vincent Jutras curiously appear on top of the wall and just as suddenly disappear behind it. We wonder whether they are using trampolines or banquine to leap so high. Finally, the walls are moved apart and we see they are, in fact, at either end of a Korean Plank or teeterboard. In terms of weight, the stouter Jutras is more often the pusher and the feline Levesque the flyer, but the act is arranged so that we see that both are capable of amazing twists and turns in the air.
Probably the most exciting act of the evening is the Chinese Pole. Normally only one or two performers use that apparatus. Snider has had a special Chinese Pole choreographer Shana Carroll create a fantastic routine at first involving Julien and Émilie Silliau, with Julien remaining stable on the pole while Émilie climbs around him and poses using him as her support. They however, are joined on the pole by Hugo Ragetly and Maria Del Mar Reyes doing the same stunts at the same time. Eventually, the whole cast becomes involved with various performers like Levesque and Émilie Silliau vying to see who can get to the top above Julien and concluding with a dramatic dive by the winner into the crowd below.
The Chinese pole routine really reflects the aesthetic of the entire show of an ensemble of circus performers, presented as ordinary people who happen to possess extraordinary talents, not competing with each other, but working together to entertain and amaze their audience. The final scene which likely represents a vision of the performers’ ancestors in the afterlife is lovely and I don’t want to spoil the surprise. What comes through with Les 7 Doigts in general and especially in Réversible is not the creation of some other world of fantasy but rather a celebration of this world and the marvellous things that human beings can achieve here and now. It’s an uplifting experience and one that will resonate with you long after you leave the theatre.
Tour stops after Toronto, ON:
• Irvine Barclay Theatre, Irvine, CA
February 1-2, 2019;
• The Granada Theatre, Santa Barbara, CA
February 7, 2019
• Mondavi Center, Davis, CA
February 10, 2019;
• Broad Stage, Santa Monica, CA
February 15-17, 2019;
☛ Zellerbach Hall, Berkeley, CA
February 22-24, 2019;
• Krannert Center, Champaign, IL
• Indiana University Auditorium, Bloomington, IN
April 2-3, 2019
Note: This review is a Stage Door exclusive.
Photos: (from top) Hugo Ragetly juggling; Natasha Patterson juggling; Émilie and Julien Silliau on the Chinese Pole. © 2018 Alexandre Galliez.
For tickets, visit 7doigts.com.