Peacock Theatre, London
June 10, 2015
Modern Circus is a recent theatrical form with Australian company Circus Oz credited with its birth in 1977. More recently Quebec has taken centre stage generating a series of companies touring the world to great acclaim. Traces by The 7 Fingers (Les Sept doigts de la Main) dates back to 2002 and almost a million people have seen the show in 25 countries. It’s easy to see why it has achieved such success.
After an initial helter-skelter of rushing and tumbling around the stage, the seven performers introduce themselves by name, place of birth and listing their strengths and weaknesses – a humanising note that was a deliberate intention of the founders. We see a wide range of apparatus sometimes involving the full company and sometimes specialists – usually with a high Wow! factor and with a rough movement style effectively choreographed.
Two vertical poles provide a framework for a variety of tricks in a stunning sequence. Lucas Boutin defies gravity by supporting himself with both arms at right angles to the pole. Later he climbs quickly to the top, reverses to a head down position with arms and legs wrapped around the pole and then drops in a death dive, only to stop a foot above the floor.
Yann Leblanc is a beefy guy who early on admitted that he was not very flexible and his general movement was not as fluent as the others. I remember thinking he must be really good at something and in the second half all was revealed. He performed solo with a Cyr, a giant steel wheel, spinning, pulling, inverting himself and generally working wonders with a dizzying range of manoeuvres, sometimes leaving the wheel to spin on its own, maintained by the angular momentum he has generated. Later we see his second speciality: a series of huge reverse flips some 20 feet in the air, as two other guys jump down onto one end of a see-saw, propelling him upwards, each flip more complex than the previous one.
A sweet, memorable alternative came with Anne-Marie Godin’s solo, reading a book in an arm chair in ways you wouldn’t believe, as she makes the chair tumble this way and that, but always finding a way to return to her book even at arm’s length with the other arm her only support on the back of the chair. Enmeng Song, a recruit from a circus school in China provides an astonishing series with a diabolo, an hour glass shaped top spun by a string with grips at each end. Just when we thought it couldn’t get more difficult, a second diabolo is added… and then a third.
Virtually all the scenes work well, but one with skateboards for the company fell flat and perhaps needs to be re-thought. In 2002, not many of us had seen what can be achieved on boards, but now we see amazing skills from competitive boarding around the world. In comparison the 7 Fingers repertoire seems pedestrian.
The interactions of the team are sometimes combative, often amusing. The show is framed around a grungy space that is a refuge from some dire unknown events unfolding outside, but this context frequently seems forgotten. It’s OK though – the skills, verve and surprises are more than enough to provide a fine entertainment with a lot of heart.