Seeing is believing

picture of Alexandra Royer in id air above a Russian bar

Don't look down: Alexandra Royer, up among the flies ready to fly down on to a six inch wide, 13ft plank. plank

Sequence 8

Les 7 Doigts de la main

****

IF life seems dull, a bit flat and you are looking for a bit of excitement then try being shot high into the air from a 13ft by 6in plank balanced on the shoulders of two blokes.

For added spice throw in a triple somersault mid air or something similar and land back on the plank. That should blow the cobwebs away, if you survive or course.

Or you could try leaping through tiny hoops at ridiculous heights in unbelievable contortions or perhaps attempt flying to logic defying heights on a teeter board, which is posh for a circus seesaw.

Do not try this at home would be an understatement with Montreal based circus company Les 7 Doigts de la main; do not try this, full stop, would be more to the point as they stretch incredulity to the limit with a mesmerising 90 minutes of dance and acrobatics.

There are no safety wires or nets and few, if any, margins for error but this is no mere circus act full of death defying stunts and tricks, cue drum rolls and tarrahs, this is theatre and no glittering sequins in sight,  with the feats of supreme circus talent held together by contemporary dance and moments of humour.

Canada, and particularly its French speaking provinces, seems to be a centre of modern circus, a circus which has more in common with dance and ballet than big top, and Les 7 Doigts de la main, literally seven fingers of the hand, founded by its seven directors in 2002, is part of that tradition.

The simplest skill, or rather the safest, being the one least likely to give you broken bones and a fractured skull if you get it wrong, is cigar box juggling, and in this one Eric Bates, regarded as one of the best exponents of the art in the world, makes it look as if the boxes are glued together. It might not be dangerous but by golly he’s good and the odd mistake here and there added to the reality and difficulty of what is a remarkable skill, oh, and he also shows a mean turn in break dancing.

Devin Henderson climbs up poles like a monkey on speed and comes down them even faster, with one particular slide, upside down, heading towards terminal velocity as his head stopped a couple of inches from the floor with just his legs wrapped around the pole for brakes. Some of his holds and positions I am sure demand  the sort of strength that woud make it dangerous from him to come into contact with Kryptonite.

Then we had circus-trained Maxim Laurin and multidisciplinary partner, Ugo Dario, on the Korean board.

Here it gets complicated, the Korean Board apparently is a teeter board exceppicture of Eric Btes, one of the best cigar box jugglers in the worldt that instead of the flyer landing on the mat or shoulders of catchers and so on, he lands back on the board, sending his partner into space and so on. This is seesaw with attitude.

You get the idea, thus Max sends Ugo flying who lands to launch Max and so on, perpetual motion, keeping each other in mid air, even changing ends a couple of times which is a dangerous manoeuvre in its own right.

Boxing master: Eric Bates, who can make cigar boxes do just about anything but talk

Former gymnast Camille Legras and her partner Tristan Nielsen are hand to hand acrobats. She flies through the air with the greatest of ease at silly speeds and heights and he catches her hand to hand or by the feet, or one handed – simple, at least to describe.  The precision, strength and balance needed by both of them is remarkable.

Then there is Alexandra Royer, a Moroccan trained in classical horseback riding who has deserted her horse to star on the Russian bar, that 13 foot by six inch plank we mentioned ealier, which combines trampoline and beam with a smattering of madness thrown in.

She is also an expert, and gold medal winner in the aerial hoop, which is another fun way to risk a fractured skull as you whirl around the stage upside down playing look no hands mum.

And finally there is the announcer, Colin Davis, who is no mean trumpet player, and who, along with partner Devlin, manages to squeeze through hoops high in the air at ridiculous speed while performing somersaults, flips, leaps and jumps.

Davis manages one breathtaking leap through a hoop at least six foot high landing in a somersault on the floor with his arms still firmly by his side. My knowledge of gymnastics is similar to my understanding of mediaeval Polynesian midwifery, but from where I sat it sure looked dangerous. Get that wrong and I suspect Colin would become an expert on hospital food.

And behind all the circus skills on show was a pulsating techno rhythm and haunting themes, even a song from Mr Davis, giving both pace and passion to the performance.

Not everything was perfect. There were the odd small mistakes. In plays, musicals or even dance, minor errors are usually known only to the cast, the audience left in blissful ignorance, but in acrobatics or juggling, they are there for everyone to see. You can’t really hide the bad or missed landing, the dropped box, the tower of rings brought down by a mistimed dive but somehow these just added to the appeal of the show, demonstrating the level of skill involved and the inherent danger in much of the performance.

It is directed and choreographed by two of Les 7 Doigts founders, former trapeze artist Shana Carroll and her husband former hand to hand specialist Sebastien Soldevila and if you get the chance to see it this is a show that just fills you with wonder and admiration and it also shows one of the great strengths of International Dance Festival Birmingham 2014.

Without IDFB, international acts, such as this, would almost certainly never be seen in Birmingham. IDBF has provided the opportunity to see Sequence 8 and it is one that is well worthwhile taking. To 10-05-14

Roger Clarke

08-05-14

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