Review: The 7 Fingers - Triptyque - Sadler's Wells

Performance: 1 & 2 April 2016
Reviewed by Graham Watts - Tuesday 5 April 2016

The 7 Fingers 'Nocturnes' Photo: Alexandre Galliez

Ten days after having Bartabas and his finely-trained horses on stage at Sadler’s Wells (in Golgota), comes circus in the human form. The 7 Fingers (known in their home province of Québec as Les 7 doigts de la main) have built up an enviable international reputation – in little over a decade – for creating absorbing theatre from an amalgam of the circus arts. One of the seven founders of the company, Samuel Tétreault, has now taken this hybrid entertainment a step further with a show that brings those circus skills alongside contemporary dance.

Watching the now (sadly) defunct Québécois Company, La La La Human Steps – at the age of 17 – Tétreault briefly considered dropping out of circus school to pursue a dance career; now, he has merged these two loves into a unique blend of physical theatre. In a show that is exactly what ‘it says on the tin’; Tétreault has invited three contemporary choreographers to create a triptych of very different works: from the dance-based eroticism of Marie Chouinard’s Anne & Samuel; through the extreme hand-balancing skills required for Victor Quijada’s Variations 9.81; and finishing with the surreal dreamlike landscape of Marcos Morau in Nocturnes.

Unfortunately, on the opening night the show began 25 minutes late, which somehow exacerbated the slowness of the opening to Chouinard’s work, made for Tétreault himself to dance with Anne Plamondon (a guest artist who has been a member of Quijada’s Québec-based RUBBERBANDance Group, since its creation in 2002), hence the simplicity of the title being just their forenames. It opens with Plamondon suspended in the air, bound to a stout bamboo pole, which made me worry that she had been up there for the whole 25 minutes before the curtain went up, although it is more likely that the complex knots took longer to tie than anticipated! The suggestion of bondage intensified through Tétreault’s face being masked by strips of tape and in Liz Vandal’s extraordinary costume for Plamondon (backless with breastplates).

The use of crutches (and other props) as extensions to the dancers’ limbs is a regular signature in Chouinard’s choreography and, here, for the first time, she has choreographed a heterosexual duet on this recurring theme. It has an arresting and indelible visual impact, suggesting diverse images of sci-fi creatures, giant vampiric insects and when combined with Isabelle Hanikamu’s nautical knot-tying Kinbaku skills (the Japanese art of bondage) there are certainly overt tones of erotica. The odd courtship ritual of Anne & Samuel is played out in low light on a circle surrounded by trash, accentuating Chouinard’s other-worldly, or perhaps, subterranean, environment.

The opening pair of works are separated by an uncredited, skittish duet, performed front of curtain – I guess while the stage is being reset – and involving a broom. For some reason, I carried away the image of a tipsy janitor and a showgirl tidying up after-hours, at a New York nightclub! I’m fairly certain that this was not the intention.

Having honed his own skills in the hothouse, competitive world of hip-hop, in his native Los Angeles, Quijada is a performer and choreographer for whom the extreme acrobatic pliability of dancers is a key resource, as the name RUBBERBANDance Group would attest. Interestingly, however, he has themed his contribution to this Triptych on the challenges of balance, with elasticity relegated to the supporting text. The title (Variations 9.81) refers to the scientific formula for the acceleration of gravity and his whole production expands upon the ability of his five hand-balancers to defy gravitational force. They maintain equilibrium in the most challenging of tests, perched upside-down on tiny, palm-sized circular platforms, like pinheads, atop circular rods fixed into the floor and moved at regular intervals: they balance with two hands on different rods; or, mostly, one-handed; their bodies stretched out in a multitude of leg-extended contortions. And, that really is that. These are amazing, jaw-dropping, acrobatic skills but as dance theatre it was a one-paced affair that lacked variety.

I much preferred the quirky, comedic imagery of Marcos Morau, the Spanish choreographer responsible for creating La Veronal, a company that appeared here at Sadler’s Wells – as part of Dance Umbrella 2015. Morau’s Nocturnes is the most complete of the Triptyque in terms of creating a fusion between dance, theatre and circus in a swirling series of surreal images that concern a woman (Kyra Jean Green) in a bed. Both her costume (open at the back) and the presence of a drip suggest the setting of a hospital and we hear a TV in the background. But, this is a bed that has six men concealed beneath it (when they slide out one-by-one, it’s a great comic moment) and it can fly! Morau provides a pot pourri of hallucinatory episodes suggesting the woman’s post-operative dreams, including men with the heads of fish; the brief, incongruous appearance of a unicyclist; and an “Edward Scissorhands” moment when the magic of snow returned to the Sadler’s Wells stage.

Attempting to innovate through mixing different arts that touch upon dance in one way or another is always to be commended. Circus-based dance theatre is not new (I’m thinking of Kristján Ingimarsson’s office-based adventure in Blam! and Circa’s recent account of The Return of Ulysses to his Homeland at the Barbican, for example) but this effort from The 7 Fingers is certainly concocting a different blend. Like many mixed bills, the outcome is a bit hit-and-miss. The circus skills are never less than extraordinary but only Morau really conjures up a new and exciting theatrical experience.

Photo: Nocturnes by Alexandre-Galliez

Graham Watts is a freelance dance writer and critic. He is a regular contributor to Dancing Times and also writes for, and other magazines and websites in Europe, Japan and the USA. He is chairman of the dance section of the Critics’ Circle in the UK and of the National Dance Awards. Twitter: @gwdancewriter

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