Thursday, 9 February 2012

La Vie, Les 7 Doigts de la Main, Feb 7, 2012, ***1/2

Spiegel Tent, Arts Centre Melbourne, Feb 7 to April 22, 2012
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars:  ***1/2

LA VIE IS THE THIRD SHOW I’ve seen by Montreal circus company, Les 7 Doigts de la Main, (7 fingers of the hand), and the programme of acts certainly embodies the dexterity and absurdity of a 7-fingered hand.

This black comedy does not features all of the company’s 8 original artists, but it boasts some spectacular acts, although this version could be more effective and cohesive without a few of the later routines.

La Vie is an intimate circus show performed on a tiny stage in the centre of the exotic Spiegel Tent and comprises multiple acts: floor acrobatics, aerial acts, music, song, juggling, dance and comedy.

The sadistic, almost demonic Master of Ceremonies, Philippe Trepanier, wielding an elaborate cane, introduces us to his cosmic waiting room. It is Purgatory for those newly dead who arrive on the cheerfully named La Vie (Life) Airlines because La Mort (The Dead) Airlines would not fly with customers.

For the entire show, the MC torments Adam Kuchler, the newest arrival, and initiates him into the afterlife by confronting him with case studies of other deaths presented as circus acts. Case # 73, however, is an unsuspecting audience member.

Each performer has a character narrative and Antonio Vargas’s skilful and inventive handstand routine portrays the frustration and despair of a wheelchair-bound man who struggles with his crippled state.

Isabelle Chassé  is a sad, psychiatric patient in a hospital gown, who desperately tries to escape her straight jacket in her contortion act on a hospital gurney then recreates her suicide on a ‘tissu’ of tied bed sheets.

Faon Shane is the abandoned lover, an ordinary woman expressing her grief while hanging from a dangerous looking chain in an aerial routine.

Emilie Bonnavaud is a sultry seductress who performs an acrobatic lap dance on a table with the MC while Krin Haglund  plays a repressed secretary who finally strips to explore her sexuality in a quirky, static trapeze act.

Kuchler proves a gentle and effective clown but had some problems with his juggling on opening night – perhaps due to jet lag on his trip to Purgatory – or Melbourne?

DJ Pocket recreates some crazy, sexy clay modelling from the movie, Ghost, and adds his cunning solo, sampled vocals of Unchained Melody.

Although the show is very entertaining, the Purgatorial narrative thread does not sustain the entire show and, in the end, the whole is less than the sum of its acts.

Problems with such shows are never about the skill of the performers but, rather, the narrative and through line. With circus, narrative is often bolted on, like an after market product on a car – it looks good but you don’t actually know what it does.

It is almost impossible, regardless of the consummate skill of the individual performers, to create a cohesive narrative for a circus show that will withstand more than 60 minutes.

Don’t bother comparing la Vie with Circus Oz or Cirque Du Soleil, if they are your only measure of contemporary circus. This is a much more intimate cabaret style, although it incorporates some of the elements of both larger companies.

Cirque sets the bar so high for design, concept and narrative structure and music that it is difficult for smaller companies to compete so they need to do something very different and take advantage of the intimacy of the smaller venue and cast.

By Kate Herbert

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