Arts Festival Review: Traces
Arts Festival Review: TracesReview by Lyndon Hood
Image: Valérie Remise
Les 7 Doigts de la Main
The Opera House
10 - 16 March
80 minutes (no interval)
http://www.nzfestival.nzpost.co.nz/theatre/traces for details and times
Canadian new circus company Les 7 Doigts de la Main have had a busy visit to Wellington, with their sex-and-death revue La Vie at the Festival Club throughout the Art Festival and workshops for children and adult performers. Now the 5 newest and youngest member of the company are bringing pop-rock circus the Opera House in Traces.
First and foremost it's a showcase the skills of the performers. And these guys are good. They do impossible things and make it look easy. But there's more to Traces than that.
There's a question that new circus seems to face almost by definition: how do we string together all these neat tricks and impressive feats in a way that makes it a single show - that makes it theatre?
There's a couple of answers in Traces. One is an implied story framing the action - there is some kind of imminent disaster waiting outside and time is running out - the performers take the time to both live and consider their lives. That also provides regular kicks of energy - paniced rushes or sudden collapses set to a pumping, rock-concert-loud pop music soundtrack. Also a good excuse for things to be a bit dishevelled a little bit street.
What really pulls together the huge range of skills on display - everything from chinese-style acrobatics to monologues to doodling to dances of wild leaps and effortless, impossible lifts - is the interplay between the performers.
The atmosphere of friendly horseplay is hugely convivial and if it's not precisely natural (we are on stage after all) it certainly isn't forced. Much of the show is like watching a bunch of students messing about - if their idea of killing time happened to be performing gobsmacking feats of strength and agility. This seems to be the idea behinds Les 7 Doigts' first show, Loft, too - rather than pretending to be multicoloured supernatural creatures, they present themselves as people.
In fact, as themselves: They all deliver speeches that range from personal histories and vital statistics to confessionals. We have a personal connection that lets us in on the fun and makes the frame story and a well-structured show the icing rather than the cake. It's natural, honest, approachable and friendly.
And if they need two tries to, for example, successfully do a sommersault off somebody's shoulders landing back on their shoulders, their humanity makes the miss all the more forgivable and the success all the more impressive.
The content of the show also reflects it performers. It's all very youth-culture, with basketball choreography and breakdance-influenced dance moves, video projection and a bit with skateboards that was, admittedly, set to a jazz soundtrack and something of a parody of a glitzy dance set piece from a movie musical. We also got to see reality TV combined with a human catapult.
And the fact that the four men of the cast's first training together was in Chinese acrobatics brings the show some techniques that must be rare in western new circus and that I'd never seen in the flesh.
Although it's not, as far as I know, Chinese, I was impressed by the performance on the single wheel. It think they called it a "Rousse" or, depending on which one of them you believe, a "big metal wheel". It starts with a performer holding the edges of a metal ring like Da Vinci's virtruvian man, spinning, rolling and flipping.
The highlights of there show were the team's pop take on archetypal Chinese acrobatics - the strength and agility displayed leaping between two upright poles, climbing them feet-first, plunging down and stopping using their ankles; the climactic sequence where they went diving through stacked wooden rings that grew considerably taller than they were.
And then they gather their stuff and left in the same panic they arrived in, rushing through the auditorium, finally caught in the same camera that (has anyone considered the Privacy Act?) relayed images of the audience as they arrived.
When they returned, a good chunk of the audience stood with their applause - something I personally hadn't seen before at this festival. We were, it's fair to say, impressed. Our new friends had done well.