Canadian circus company The 7 Fingers return to London with their contemporary circus show about representing relationships through acrobatics.
Modern circus shows don’t usually feature much chat. But this piece from Québec-based company Les 7 Doigts de la Main (The 7 Fingers) kicks off with a few words. ‘The performer cannot exist without an audience,’ a man says into a microphone. ‘We’re all connected.’ He and several other performers pop up repeatedly to take the piss and explain the themes throughout this pared-back show. In ‘Sequence 8’ the banter flows.
The natter is an attempt to set this piece apart from the seemingly endless supply of new acrobatic product from Canada. As with most (barring Cirque du Soleil, of course), there are no strings or fancy leotards here, just a reliance on what the body can do. At its simplest, ‘Sequence 8’ is superb. Eric Bates performs a set piece, juggling bricks with astonishing dexterity. On a long, bouncy pole balanced on two performers, Alexandra Royer jumps high into the air, then somersaults and twists before landing again on the thin bar. The acrobats clamber up and down a huge Chinese pole with barely a thought, and Royer also does some beautiful work on a swinging hoop.
But it’s the extra guff that jars. Worthy and dull contemporary dance sits oddly alongside the wilfully irreverent talking bits. A serious section where black tape is wrapped around standing bodies in a spider’s web (another demonstration of how ‘connected’ we are) is just lame. And a silly rap battle feels like an unnecessary diversion.
There’s no doubt that the circus in ‘Sequence 8’ will have you gasping in disbelief. But trying to mix gravitas with throwaway humour confuses things and detracts from the talent, the daring and the pure enjoyment.
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Since it began, circus has been characterised as a form of entertainment that combines the artistic with the sporting; comedy sequences with demonstrations of physical prowess. I find it strange that 'Sequence 8' should be damned for doing just that! Talking about 'the circus in Sequence 8' is like talking about 'the ocean in the water' - it's backwards! The feats of aerial skill, juggling and acrobatics are not circus on their own, they are simply aerial skills, juggling and acrobatics; it's the completeness of a multi-faceted form that gives it that name. (Comparatively, performing horses taken out of the circus may be called dressage, but never circus. Clowning, when it appears outside of the circus, is never refered to as more than the sum of it's parts. Stunt performance appears both in circus and without, but doesn't carry the title with it.
I wonder why it is so common for aerial skills, or other pieces of unusual apparatus, to be called circus when used alone? )
Perhaps because it's an easy catch-all term for performance forms that are rapidly branching out from their circus background? My worry is that it glosses over the true nature of a circus, and makes it all about a particular repertoire of techniques, when in fact circus is renowned for it's innovation and appropriation of skilled entertainments into a wide embrace.
This website won't let me post without giving a star rating (don't get me started), so here's my spiel on the show: I saw it in Birmingham earlier in the year, and rated it world class for a reason in my Circus Diaries review. To miss it, would be to miss an opportunity to see something phenomenal.