This isn’t the kind of circus show where you need to worry about how to liberate bears and lions from a life of cruel servitude and exploitation. Canadian company Les 7 doigts de la main display such superhuman, jaw-dropping acrobatic feats that you find yourself fretting about their skeletal intactness and insurance coverage. But then, I’ve never seen someone balance and spin one-handed on a stick with their legs at a 90 degree angle before. Needless to say, it was all done with effortless artistry.
Triptyque is the result of the company’s collaboration with three contemporary choreographers, each piece based on the theme of gravity – both as the literal force that the circus artist strives to overcome and as a metaphorical emotional trajectory. The first piece of the evening, Anne & Samuel, is a duet created by Montreal-based choreographer Marie Chouinard for company co-founder Samuel Tétreault and the classically trained Anne Plamondon of RUBBERBANDance. Back in 2005’s bODY_rEMIX, Chouinard combined pointe shoes with crutches and fetish gear. In Anne & Samuel, the crutches are back, with a bit of bondage thrown in for good measure. Having freed Plamondon from her initial cocoon-like strapping, Tétreault uses one crutch to gently lift her arm and cajole it into a graceful ripple, nudging her from inertness into life. There are other strangely tender moments, as when she tip-toes up his leg or clings to his back. And, in one casual movement, Tétreault raises his body into a handstand en-crutch, like some sort of proud overture to a mating display. At its best, Anne & Samuel is a compelling, insectoid dance of love. At worst, it looks like someone’s raided an NHS supply cupboard in a taupe penile truss and a gimp mask.
Variations 9.81, by RUBBERBANDance founder Victor Quijada, deals more explicitly with gravity and the circus artist’s defiance of it. (The title refers to the mathematical value of gravitational acceleration on earth.) A quintet of performers use dozens of hand-balancing canes of varying heights to display fearless feats of strength, balance and flexibility – this is where the one-handed spinning mentioned earlier came in. There’s an awe-inspiring section in which, while upside-down, all the performer’s bodies undulate in tandem. Despite all the virtuoso circus artistry, the piece didn’t have a whole lot of emotional resonance — a bit of staggering and near-collapse seemed to suggest some human vulnerability to a heaviness of feeling and physical frailty.
The third and final piece, Nocturnes, by Spanish choreographer Marcos Morau, takes sleep as its starting point, the moment at which everyone submits finally to gravity at the end of an upright day. The company pull out all the stops to conjure up a dream world in which humdrum pedestrian existence is overturned. Above a big bed, which eventually floats and stands up vertically, the performers engage in astonishing aerial tricks on ropes, a heart-stopping tightrope walk, mesmeric juggling and unicycle routines. Along with the acrobatic marvels, Morau creates delightful touches of wit, most notably a jazzy little dance routine for a group wearing giant rubbery fish heads.
Triptyque was on at Sadler’s Wells. For more of their programme, click here.