Circus collective 7 Doigts de la Main seems to have grown an extra two fingers (assuming the acrobats are the fingers), but a good chef doesn’t care about what’s written on the page and goes with instinct. The collective whips up Cuisine and Confessions, a 90-minute high-energy show that combines food with feats. While the actors dance, bounce, and flip their way through heartfelt numbers, they also manage to cook banana bread, an omelette, and pasta… all of which is served to audience members. Founding members of 7 Doigts Shana Carroll and Sebastien Soldevila created and directed the work.
Audience members arrive to find a multi-storey high open kitchen (fully functional, it would seem) stocked with bowls, tea towels, an oven, and a sliding ladder. It’s more Ikea than Holt Renfrew, with tables that stack cleverly together to form boxes, a counter/dining table, and a couch. The acro-artists come to the stage to read aloud “confessions,” mostly related to food. One loves deserts, another has a few words on broccoli. Language switches from French to English to Spanish to Italian.
They then shift into action, a series of spoken-word and dance pieces that revolve around food and life moments from the mundane to the profound. It’s artful, with an eye to coordinating costumes, music, story, and act. As one expects from a circus, there are awe inspiring feats that evoke gasps and appreciative applause.
A pole number related to the loss of a family member was the highlight for me. Argentinian Matias Plaul talks about how his communist father is one of the country’s “disappeared”, a point he emphasizes by sliding face first down the pole in a near free fall, stopping inches before the ground. I generally like aerial silk numbers too. Russian Anna Kichtchenko performs one in a gingham tablecloth after another company member reads aloud a recipe for borscht. Clothing and fabric fall down from her body as she twists and spins in the air. There was some precision vaulting through square frames by Melvin Diggs and Sidney Iking Bateman during their number about growing up among the urban poor. Bateman later vaults through a loop formed by the arms and legs of Kichtchenko’s natarajasana pose.
Ultimately, some numbers are better than others. A juggling act by Pablo Pramparo underwhelmed and sometimes I expected a big stunt, only to get none at all. The Chinese yo-yo act had great music and moves, but some wayward yo-yos detract from the wonder. The show capitalized on each acrobats’ relative strengths, so there was plenty of acro-dance, hand to hand, and springy tumbling. The sensuality and fluidity were maintained with both joy and enthusiasm.
If one thing struck me, it was that no matter what was going on upstage, there was plenty to eyeball everywhere else. For example, I barely caught the acrobat hanging upside down by her leg while playing guitar because I was focused on the dance number in front of me. Generally, the group numbers were beautifully choreographed, a perfect balance between absolute synchronization and freedom of expression. “You’re the One that I Want” had some very sexy interaction between pairs, while a dance with plates that turned into a human car was cleverly executed.
Cuisine and Confessions repeatedly broke the fourth wall, calling on some audience members to receive the royal treatment. Poor Stephanie in the front row became a love object and was delivered an omelette (I don’t think she ate it). Christophe read out a speech instructing audience members to set their phones for a certain time and accidentally read “insert votre nom” instead of his own name.
Overall, the show was a little disjointed and the focus scattered. There’s plenty here and the company talented, but the sensory overload had the effect of dulling the senses. I found myself uncertain where to look and occasionally wanting more. Props like the ladder and the overhead bars taunted me in that though used in the background, they never became the centerpiece of any acts. They reminded me of unused kitchen gadgets that take up prime counter real estate but hardly merit their price tags (Actually, that’s not entirely true. In my kitchen, even the juicer and the Kitchenaid mixer get used). A little less of this and a little more of that and the show would be more to my own tastes.
Cuisine and Confessions plays until November 16 at Tohu (). 8 p.m. $35/42/50 with reduced prices for students under aged 25. See website for details