Charming and awe-inspiring in equal measure.
By Joel Benjamin
Why so much prodigiously physical entertainment has come out of French-speaking Canada is a mystery. Cirque du Soleil and its progeny have spread the gospel of a new-age hybrid of dance, storytelling and acrobatics around the world. Now the quietly prolific troupe, Les 7 Doigts de la Main from Montreal, is displaying its heartwarmingly human-scaled take on high-flying physical perfection at the New York City Center. Named Montreal’s 2014 Artist for Peace, 7 Doigts is making a name for itself and the reasons are abundantly clear. Its show, Séquence 8, is, perhaps, the most accessible, humorous and exciting interpretation of the gospel of gymnastics as entertainment. The show combines acrobatics, dancing, vaudeville shtick and even a bit of vocalizing.
A funny, low-keyed “turn-off-your-cell-phone” spiel established an easygoing mood soon belied by the series of mind-boggling acts of physical derring-do. The show had a natural ebb and flow which allowed one feat of physical virtuosity after another to register deeply in the minds and eyes of the audience. This human scaled pacing allowed for the smooth integration of all the casual bits of humor, including a little flirtatious foray into the audience, helping us know the cast, all charmers.
The set was starkly simple. Its major elements were a tall pole topped by a bell, tethered upright by thick wires and a back wall filled with fancy, but empty, frames. Variously, a Russian pole, a teeter plank (think large seesaw), various trapezes and lots of padding were dragged on an off as each was needed by these masterful athletes.
Alexandra Royer bounced on the Russian pole held on the shoulders of two of her colleagues. She slowly built up to a series of mind-boggling airborne somersaults, her landings bending the board dramatically. Eric Bates held a series of small boxes, letting them go as he twirled, only to catch them before they hit the floor. The boxes, eventually numbering four, were tossed and caught with split-second timing. Even though this act predates W.C. Fields, Eric’s take on it was fresh and pleasing. [These were the only performers identified by name, so, regrettably, the others have to go unnamed, except for their contributions to the show.]
The pair of teeter performers kept each other soaring high as they flipped and twisted. One cast member kept racing at the tall pole finally scaling it to ring the bell, not once, but several times looking as satisfied as if he had scaled Mount Everest. Circles of metal held high proved no barrier to this high jumping group as they flew through the hoops contorting their frames into all sorts of positions.
These young performers kept stopping time and hearts, dazzling us as they hovered seemingly endlessly in the air. But it wasn’t just their obvious physical skills that impressed. Their everyday demeanors, casual attire and obvious rapport with each other made them immediately likeable. They were an unpretentious community of good-looking young people—young people with super-duper physiques and fearless techniques.
Séquence 8 – Les 7 Doigts de la Main (April 16-26, 2015)
New York City Center 131 West 55th St., between Sixth and Seventh Avenues NYC
Tickets and Information: 212-581-1212 or www.nycitycenter.org
Running time: 90 minutes, no intermission