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Jessica Abrams
Performance Reviews
Break Dance
Valley Performing Arts Center at California State University, Northridge
United States
Greater Los Angeles
Northridge, CA

Les 7 Doigts de La Main's Séquence 8 daredevil poetic brilliance

by Jessica Abrams
February 27, 2015
Valley Performing Arts Center at California State University, Northridge
18111 Nordhoff Street
Northridge, CA 91330
(818) 677-3000
Nouveau Cirque, or contemporary circus, originated during the latter half of the last century. It is as different from traditional circus as Pizza Hut is from artisanal pizza. Gone are the tortured animals made to perform tricks. Gone is the smell of sawdust. Gone is the music – if it can be called that – whose only purpose is to act as sensory reminder, letting us know where we are and where we've been time and again. No: Nouveau Cirque, with its narrative and the music that serves it is, for lack of a better word, art. And, to continue with the metaphor, Montreal is to Nouveau Cirque what Naples is to pizza. The most renowned example of Nouveau Cirque in the world, Cirque du Soleil, came out of that Canadian city which boasts more contemporary circus schools than perhaps any other city in the world.

Les 7 Doigts de la Main, a company to come out of Montreal in the early part of this millennium, perfectly exemplifies the freedom and artistry of Nouveau Cirque and then some. Performing last week at the Valley Performing Arts Center on the campus of California State University Northridge, Les 7 Doigts de la Main blended the daredevil feats of contemporary circus with dance and humor creating a level of show-stopping brilliance that by show's end had the audience on its feet.

Les 7 Doigts de la Main (which translates to "the seven fingers of the hand", a play on the French idiom, "the five fingers of the hand," used to describe various components working together toward a common goal) is the brainchild of a collective of circus artists who came together to "bring circus to a human scale, placing the extraordinary element of circus into human contexts." Indeed, its evening-length piece, Séquence 8 features eight acrobatic and dance sequences held together by Colin Davis, who serves as the philosopher/narrator who strings the individual pieces together and strings us, the audience, along on a poetic journey as stimulating mentally as it is visually.

After Davis warms us up with a conversation as low-key as if he were addressing each audience member individually, the dancing begins. All eight dancers take the stage in an explosion of movement that blends tumbling with hip-hop with child-like whimsy. The movement was playful and perfectly synchronized: three dancers executed back handsprings and dove onto the floor together, while others climbed onto each other and back-flipped onto their feet. The performers weaved in the various elements of Nouveau Cirque – in this case, two male dancers held a plank (in contemporary circus this is known as "banquine") while a female, Alexandra Royer, was tossed rhythmically into the air like a human tennis ball, flipping and double-flipping her way back to a standing position on a thin strip less than two feet in width. Between the music, the plank holders, and Royer herself – with her body undulating its way into a dismount - circus acts are elevated to the sublime. When Royer doesn't manage to land her last flip and gracefully slips, her very fallibility adds another human layer to the show. It is less about the feats as about the artists performing them.

More circus props, some contemporary, some not. American Eric Bates juggled cigar boxes, defying gravity to the point where the air around them actually seemed heavier than usual. Hoops the diameter of hula hoops ("Chinese hoops" in nouveau cirque vernacular) play a key part in one dance, as performers hold them while others dive through, flip, then somersault onto the floor. The movement here was loose, pedestrian, percussive and playful. There may not necessarily be the usual three rings we associate with traditional circus, but there were multiple activities happening onstage at once.

But for all the fun, the humanity of each piece always shone through, and the spirit of play turned poignant at a moment's notice. Even the see-saw, with its daredevil feats, for a moment became simply two men sitting apart from each other, the silence between them as loud and powerful as any music. Later, when a ring dropped down from the ceiling, a female performer, her hair curly and loose, danced sensually and athletically with and on it while a male dancer moved around the stage holding a spotlight he shone on her from various angles. A poem about lost love? A call to humanity? What made this evening so special was the idea that it could be both of those and more. Just when it seems the performers were incapable of topping themselves athletically, they did. And just when they asked us to dig deeper and feel more profoundly, we did. The beauty and power of Les 7 Doigts de la Main lies as much in what the performers dare to do onstage as in what we dare to give as an audience.

And that, in case you haven't heard, is the definition of art.

Photo © & courtesy of Lionel Montagnier

Photo © & courtesy of Lionel Montagnier

Photo © & courtesy of Lionel Montagnier

Photo © & courtesy of Lionel Montagnier

Photo © & courtesy of Sylvie-Ann Pare

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