Les 7 doigts de la main, Séquence 8


Due to the generosity of a bunch of folk I was able to see Les 7 doigts de la main latest and greatest show, Séquence 8, not once, but twice. The first time at the opening last week and then a second time on Tuesday night. I’m going to have to try to make a point of seeing more performances twice – it is extremely helpful in trying to get a handle on what’s happening. As I have pointed out before, all too frequently, the show that I see at a première and the show I see at the end of the world tour are two completely and utterly different beasts. Being able to see a show a second time allows for a certain familiarity and comfort, I kind of know what’s going to happen next, instead of jotting notes furiously trying to just keep up with what’s happening on stage – in effect being the play-by-play announcer, it affords a certain perspective so that I can also take notes that are the equivalent of the color commentary as well. In short a more well-rounded perspective, which in the case of a review, really can’t hurt.

To begin with, the logistics; at the première (where I was told by someone who seemed reliable) that every last ticket was comped (my back of the envelope math placed it about 950 to 1,000 seats). I couldn’t quite get a hang of where I fit in the Montreal performing arts hierarchy, other than understanding I’m in the top 1,000, because on the downside, the seats were in the absolute last row, so if I had any insecurities, I would have been absolutely crushed by having to walk up all of those stairs. But on the positive side the seats were pretty much as close to the center as they could be, so not only were there other people who were also in the back row, but they could only see the show from an angle, or in the worst case from behind the performers. If I had tried to I could have tripped myself and fallen into the laps of Shana Carroll and Sebastien Soldevila the two non-performing folk who were most responsible to the show. Something called Mise en scene and direction artistique (basically directing and artistic direction in the Devil’s language). And while I’m at it, Ms. Carroll was wearing a particularly smashing outfit, one of those tuxedo tail-like suit coats from like the 1880s or a Fred Astaire film, unfortunately she was nowhere to be seen last Tuesday. For the life of me I can’t remember at all anything that Mr. Soldevila wore.

I don’t know if it was because we got to Tohu earlier last week than this week, or if there is a significant difference in the traffic on the 40 between Thursday nights and Tuesday nights, but before the show on Tuesday and again at quite points there was a very distinct low rumble that could be heard. On the Tuesday night performance it wasn’t there, and I don’t know why. But at the time I guessed that it was from the large and particularly busy elevated highway that runs right beside the theatre. But since I wasn’t able to hear it on the Tuesday performance, it might be something else entirely, I dunno. But no matter how nice, good and sweet circus stuff and circus performers are, I’m still not to certain I would want to be working that close to cars and trucks going 60 miles an hour.

But enough about the stuff that has nothing to do with the show, despite any desires I have to discuss the atmosphere before the show, who else was sitting next to us, how slowly the crowd moved, the vaguely museum like display in the hallways or why it appeared that 75% of the people entered from stage right, I will refrain so that I can in fact get to the meat of the matter; Séquence 8.

Now this was my first time seeing Les 7 doigts de la main, and if you weren’t aware, they are one of these “new-fangled” circuses that don’t use animals and focus on the body, as in acrobatics, gymnastics, contortion and other stuff like that. After seeing the show twice, I’m trying to wrap my head around how exactly I would define a circus and a circus troupe. Because for the most part, it seems that a circus troupe is a collection of freelance performers who happen to be available to perform for the duration of whatever tour has been organized. As far as I am able to figure out, continuity of performers is not something that is a priority with a 21st century circus troupe. Similarly, it seems to me that a “new-fangled” circus is a loose collection of things that the performers can do, seemingly linked together by a director. Now that I think about it more and harder, I’m surprised that I haven’t seen (or more to the point heard, since I really haven’t seen tons of circuses) a circus that uses Frisbees and/or pogo sticks – after all there are tons of circii (that’s just pretentious, the plural of circus is circuses) which use hula-hoops, hacky-sacks and other products popularized by Wham-O. But if you haven’t noticed, I’ve digressed. Apologies.

The show itself starts when someone I think is Colin Davis plays at being some sort of host/presenter part starts reciting in badly accented French while dropping papers that look like those you get from fortune cookies something that after having seen the show twice I am completely and utterly unable to remember at all. Then it quickly becomes obvious that this is one of those “new-fangled” circuses as the seven other performers quickly run on stage and do an awful lot of tumbling, acrobatics, gymnastics, jumping around and rolling. After having seen the show twice, I get the distinct sensation that Ms. Carroll and M. Soldevila were the ones responsible for the parts like that trying to use the mass movement as some kind of unifying undertaking that makes it obvious they are all part of one unit and not disparate parts.

While the jumping up and down and the gymnastics were very well done, I’m not quite certain I buy into the concept of it making them all one unit. But I’ll get to that in more detail later. In total there are about 15 vignettes that for the most part spotlight the specialties of the performers. Because of them being very distinctly separated, any kind of half-assed, after the fact attempt to group them together is going to obviously come up short. Not only because the rolling and tumbling isn’t anybody’s specialty, but also due to the fact that by getting everyone to do kind of the same thing they all end up going down to the lowest common denominator, which is never a good thing, and when being juxtaposed against everyone’s best is only going to suffer, and suffer badly.

The first significant vignette, is Alexandra Royer‘s Russian Bar act. She acquitted herself very well, doing a bunch of double flips (which is about two more rotations than I am capable of doing) but what I found particularly weird was that the audience applauded on the simple flips and was pretty much silent on the more complicated ones. I also was able to take advantage of a thought I had towards the end of the first performance, that was to note how many times acts required spotters. Under the presumption that no spotters meant that whatever was being done was relatively easy, and spotters meant that, while not necessarily difficult, potentially dangerous. Ms. Royer had spotters. In between the first time I saw the show and the second time, there were (obviously) some changes made, most notably being the talk-show portion at the beginning between Mr. Davis and Eric Bates in French. I can’t say I missed it the second time around, and it left me wondering why they even thought that it was a good idea in the first place.

There’s a short segment that effectively kills some time while they play around with the pole during blackouts (the stage was made rather bare. Six large wooden cubes, one pole that was probably 15 to 20 fee tall, a desk with some very funky legs, and a backdrop made of some empty but ornate frames). Imagine assuming a pose on the pole, and then when the lights come back on there is another person or persons in completely different poses on the pole. Easy laugh. Which doesn’t quite lead into or progress naturally, but is succeeded by Maxim Laurin‘s trapeze act. Which is quite spectacular. On both nights it got the biggest round of applause up to that point, and I noted his stomach, which not only was the major muscle he used to manipulate his body, but was also very flat and made me realize that I probably could use a little bit more exercise than I am getting.

At various points all of the gentlemen performers performed shirtless, and there was an entire time killing segment where three of them (including one lady performer) very slowly disrobed, after putting on a bunch of excess layers. For the most part it was what I called the time killing segments that while not bad per se, didn’t really seem to me to serve any purpose other than possibly allowing some folks to catch their breath. Specifically the thing with the tape, the thing with the loop machine and the previously mentioned cut talk show bit. I could understand how initially they might have been put there to either establish character, or further the plot, but when they finally put the show together, there wasn’t any plot and beyond being themselves, there weren’t any characters. The only time killing segment that even came close to working was the ring the bell one, where Mr. Davis asked questions of the audience and M. Laurin had to climb the pole to ring the bell.

I also was unable to figure out any connections between the music played and what was happening on stage. The music veered from a really bad lounge jazz version of Cry Me A River by Lisa Ekdahl

to a pretty pathetic attempt at hip hop sung and performed by the performers themselves. Note to future show producers, if you have cast members who know how to juggle and/or do acrobatics in the air and on the ground, it doesn’t mean, and in fact is extremely unlikely, that they also are great singers and musicians. If you haven’t noticed when you’re even a halfway decent singer you get paid an awful lot more than being a great circus artist. If I had a choice between doing flips in the air and singing on how I wanted to express my creativity, the songs would win out every time, and while I recognize that I don’t think like everyone, in this particular case I do think I am in the majority.

But enough of the negativity, despite the past couple of paragraphs, it really was a good show. Besides the Russian Bar and the Trapeze, there were five other circus vignettes. Mr. Bates juggling cigar boxes, Devin Henderson and Mr. Davis doing a Chinese hoops act, Tristan Nielsen and Camille Legris doing some hand-to-hand act, Ugo Dario and M. Laurin on a Korean Plank and Ms. Royer on and in an aerial hoop. All of which were particularly good. If you want to get a general sense of the circus-y stuff that was in the show, I would suggest watching the videos that I put in the preview article I wrote about the show.

While watching it the first time, it seemed like each performer brought their specialty to the table and then someone else tried to link them together into some whole. It ended up giving the performance a sincere but naïve sense. Sincere in that all the circus stuff was dead-bang on, drop dead amazing. Naive in that it almost seemed like the performers had written the show.

On the second night I saw it, everyone seemed to have a case of the dropsies, although on both nights when the Chinese hoops were lined three high it took the same number of tries for Mr. Henderson to make it through the triple high stack, which on one hand-made me question the possibility that he missed on purpose. And on the other caused the audience to become incredibly sympathetic, actively cheering for him each successive try, until he got it. Which led to the evening’s largest and loudest round of applause. On Tuesday Mr. Bates dropped boxes, the trumpet failed during the rap number and there were a couple of other non-scripted moments.

Despite that, I thought that the second performance I saw was much tighter. I don’t know if that would be due to the revisions made in between, or if it only seemed that way because I had seen everything before, or if my concept of “tightness” as it applies to a circus performance is woefully outdated. Personally I prefer the first one. I also should point out that on the first night I was almost sitting next to Teklieng Lim who had been hired by the 7 doigts de la main to draw some sketches of the show,

Teklieng Lim's sketch of Alexandra Royer of Les Sept Doigts de la Main in Séquence 8
Teklieng Lim’s sketch of Alexandra Royer of Les Sept Doigts de la Main in Séquence 8

You can see all the other sketches here.

The actual circus stuff in Les 7 doigts de la main’s Séquence 8 is quite good, actually even better than that. I think I could easily watch Mr. Bates, Ms. Royer, M. Laurin, Mr. Henderson, Mr. Davis, Mr. Nielsen, Ms. Legris and Mr. Dario do their stuff many more times than the twice I have already. However, I have no real need to hear them sing or watch them act even if it was something written by Shakespeare sung to a tune written by Bach. Trying to link various circus acts together with characters and plot just doesn’t work in this case, I’d almost go so far as to say that it would be better titled as Eight Séquences instead of Séquence 8.

If you haven’t seen it, it is still playing here in Montreal until Sunday, and then after that you’re going to have to go to Monte Carlo, Graz, Philadelphia, Boston or Toulouse to see it (although judging by the schedule there will be more performances added, there are some holes