Circus Review







Les 7 Doigts de la main


photo by Stéphanie Boisvert


Peacock Theatre


3 February – 14 March 2009






A review by Mags Gaisford for EXTRA! EXTRA!


It being Darwin week, he’s been celebrated on TV a lot recently. An evolutionary ignoramus, I’m struck most by those creatures that seem like botched experiments: animals who emerged as one species and tried to become another – and were, themselves, almost frozen in time in that halfway state. The manatee is living evidence of when elephants took to water, the duck – billed platypus of when reptiles became a bit mammalian.

Les 7 doigts de la main cite the ‘dexterity and beautifully awkward coordination of an unconventional – and unlikely – seven – fingered hand’ as the desired effect given by the ‘high – energy urban acrobatics’ of their 5 circus – school graduate protégées. Their goal is to ‘bring circus to a human scale’. The vastness of that scale is made startlingly obvious by this performance. Uncanny traces of our relatives in the animal kingdom shine through in the agility of these acrobats, making the tamed furry performers of old redundant, whilst highlighting the unique trait that sets us apart from the other species: our ability for imaginative expression.

Tonight the Peacock Theatre is a decaying ‘clubhouse’, a makeshift shelter from the ‘unknown catastrophe’ beyond its walls. Data being monitored and projected onto a large screen as the backdrop to the stage, together with a sound-scape of ticking clocks, beating hearts and moody 90’s hip / trip hop, sets a tone of paranoia. The atmosphere is not new: this particular dystopian unease carries a plethora of contemporary cultural references: The Matrix, Fight Club, the voyeurism and narcissistic desperation of the Big Brother culture…

The idea is for these 5 performers, playing themselves, to leave ‘traces’ of their individuality as an antidote to the apocalyptic forces closing in on them.  Into a microphone on a rope that descends intermittently they reveal intimate details about themselves. Heloise Bourgeois, the only woman in the group, tells us that as a child she fell constantly out of bed, and as an adult, into love. Francisco Cruz is keen to list the types of cereal he eats.

As a group, they must find ways of using time, space and limited props to allay boredom.  The 4 men grew up together in San Francisco. On breaks from the rigorous discipline of Chinese circus training they would hone their basketball and skateboarding techniques on the streets. Meanwhile in Paris, Heloise was combining her own acrobatic studies with award winning equestrian vaulting. The lengthy lists of skills on their programme profiles suggest that collectively, their strongest is for finding things to do.

Photo From Chuncheon Mime Festival


And the things you can do with your body! Near the start is a beautiful sequence involving a romantic love triangle, in which Heloise (who I could swear has more cat in her than human) climbs Will Underwood as if he were a tree bending in the wind, before her feet leap from the ground to be caught in Francisco’s two hands. In others, people are literally flung high into the air, seemingly at random: but the choreography is so precise as to prevent any real fear of accident. It’s like the coolest science lesson ever: you’d have to be blind not to wonder at the beauty of the movement of mass in air, the ingenious design of the human hand.

In these performers’ hands a metal hoop, some wooden chairs, take on magical lives of their own.  The basketball game gives the NBA a run for their money. Every break in the hip hop soundtrack is accounted for physically, without compromising the sense of a real game.

The Chinese pole sequence is angst – ridden and intense. Thom Yorke’s voice and green lights set the scene, giving a sense of the obsessive, frustrating side of high – risk acrobatics. Certain ways of descending two adjacent metal poles look like suicide attempts, prevented at the last second, often by other people - demonstrating the immense trust they have built up as a group.

Nitin Sawnhey is a musical maestro whose eclectic mixes scale dizzying heights of emotion. But the earnest voices of the political interludes on his albums can at times feel a little over - cooked. Interesting then, that one such sample is used to accompany a slower sequence implying the aftermath of a crime scene. In a similar way, the conceptual dramatic scenes don’t really do justice to the awesome physicality of this performance. The ‘Infinity TV’ spoof is a slightly jarring excuse for some brilliant teeterboard moves.  Granted, the performers need a chance to catch their breaths here and there, but the acting parts don’t quite match up to the sheer cool of the gymnastics.

Homo Sapiens cannot fly. His over – developed brain tells him one day he will die. In defiance, his creative impulse battles with the knowledge of his limitations.  Engraved into a rock, a fossil of the human body could never communicate the drama of our situation to witnesses of the future. Our self – obsessive technological recordings will eventually disintegrate. What we can do is take all this into account and appreciate the now. And that’s the beauty of this show: blink and you’ll miss something amazing.


photo by ODC Photo


0844 4124300
£10 - £36
Portugal Street, Holborn, WC2






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