Monday, February 09, 2015

Kept Afloat by Big Top Tricks, 7 Fingers Dabbles Densely in Many Arts -- Patience Here is an Artful Asset

This was a challenging fringe circus show to review ...

Loaded with many things to do and to prove, from circus acts and dance, to pantomime, chat, satire, hauntingly downbeat stage pictures linked to abstract body movement, and even more —  the Montreal-based and very French Les 7 doigts de la main  delves even deeper into its preoccupation with the human condition. They call this one Sequence 8.   As the company did with one of its first outings,  the easier-to-take Traces, Sequence 8 opens the souls of its performers onto the audience by having them talk to us and to each other.  Sometimes in secretive whispers.  In the shadows.  Our job is to ponder.

Call this eclectic opus a metaphysical variety show.  It is, no, not a circus, even though it, yes, wins us over by essentially being a circus, earning its encores with a few outstanding acts, themselves certainly good enough for a shot at Monte Carlo medals.  They are, nonetheless, deadly determined to reach the theatre crowd.  While Isadora Duncan might approve, not sure that Will Shakespeare would.  They are all about being clever and hip, so hip during the dullest moments as to be as dumbfounding as an art installation in a modern art museum.  This apparently thrills to no end those on the intellectual fringe seeking both a release from and an excuse for patronizing a circus.

They take the stage, as they did with Traces, merging dance and acrobatics into brilliantly complex patterns, this early astonishing assault flowing into one of two most memorable offerings —  Alexandra Royer in a pole vaulting routine that tops anything in this genre that I have ever seen.   At this early point, I thought to myself (prematurely judging as often I try not to do), if only Cirque du Soleil could be like that.

They had barely just begun, keep in mind, and what lay ahead was as tediously pretentious as it was, at redemptive intervals, exhilarating.  The other star act has two fellows — Ugo Dario and Maxim Laurin —  ambling about on a teeterboard, accelerating their amble into a thrilling exhibition of somersaulting thrusts upward, one after the other.  Another Monte Carlo moment, I’d say.   And there is a third turn that captures major attention in the form of juggler Eric Bates manipulating square blocks.  Company ingeniously contributes to his number.

In-between the strongest action drawn from big top dynamics, all of the other stuff, joined without a clear narrative or rhythmic pulse, may try your patience. And instead of an intermission, we are talked to by one of the artists, endeavoring to charm spectators in a yet more intimate manner.   Nouveau audience participation.  Another trying diversion consists of  four people planted downstage facing the audience, each pretending to be standing in front of a mirror while removing their clothes.  Very slow.  What is the point of it – quasi strip tease?   By now, I was wishing, if only 7 Fingers could be more like Cirque du Soleil.

On my way out, facing my honest emotions, I did not feel the same joy that I felt leaving the CDS tent following Kurios.  Or leaving Ringling following Built to Amaze.  I felt a strange sad  existential gloom, and I was surprised, looking at my pre-Apple wrist watch, to see that I had not been in there for over two hours, as it had seemed, but for only 95 minutes.
Which makes it not just easier, but more logical to state that this is not a circus.  Indeed, it never really wanted to be one, and never called itself a circus, even though, according to program notes, it's "initial goal was to bring circus to a human scale."  No wonder I feel rather irrelevant writing this review.   

7 Fingers, its theatre-heavy roots in the last and thematically darkest days of San Francisco's New Pickle Circus (Circumstance, Birdhouse Factory), extends a drive, once briefly championed in the Soviet Union during post-revolutionary days, to merge theatre and circus.   Sequence 8 will undoubtedly impress those who long for circus – without circus.  For myself, if I want Becket or Brecht, Pinter or Genet or Gorky, I’ll go see a real play in a real playhouse.

Rating (it’s the whole show, stupid): 2 stars

7 Fingers - Sequence 8
Berkeley, Ca, Feb. 7, 2015

Reviewed on 2.9.15

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