By James Foritano
Boston, MA – In English, their name means the seven digits of the hand. This current downtown presentation by Les 7 doigts de la main of “Changes,” until October 12, at Arts Emerson’s ‘the world on stage’ is, in this reviewer’s opinion, the closest an adult can sit to the magic of childhood at the circus.
Originally formed in Montreal in 2006, this multi-dimensional production, spells ‘circus’ not only with derring-do and flair, but personality, connection, and even, may one say, soul.
The seven performers have changed since the troupe’s Montreal advent in 2006, but hewed closely to their intention of presenting variety within unity like a handful of fingers plus 2. There was certainly ethnic variety, and, though just barely, gender variety, and then a pleasing variety of body types, from coiled to lanky and shades in-between.
The ‘plus 2’ fingers is defined in the program as ‘awkwardness’ which I cannot agree with unless that word is used in the existential sense to mean those slight missteps all conscious beings take traveling through the enigma of destiny. On stage, even the few mistakes of this well-practiced troupe were performed with such fluid grace that we clapped not only with encouragement for the next try but for the nobility of the ‘failure’ — more vividly expressed here than all the worn bromides we urge upon reluctant runners of life’s race.
Beside the awesome expertise in derring-do, the ‘soul’ of this venturesome troupe is rather more difficult to define. The conceit or over-arching premise of the story is seven people who’ve know each other before a global catastrophe impends, squirrel into a derelict shelter to live out, in common, the indeterminate amount of time they have left on this earth.
They intend to plumb the depths of their common bond while communicating to each other as much individuality as they can without showboating. Despite the cool/ominous graphics, funky stage design, throbbing music, etc., I found this conceit somewhat thin. And yet, there was a dimension — or dimensions — to this performance that lifted it, for me, as far above run-of-the-mill acrobatic ‘entertainment’ as, say, the swinging seat of a trapeze artist above the well-trod sawdust of the circus ring.
One such dimension seemed to lie in the smoothness of integration that propelled the sometimes ‘break-neck,’ at all times fast-paced delivery of the action. Perforce, in highly original group combinations of strength and skill, there has to be extreme muscular deftness, but there seemed also to be an esprit de corps energizing an always-palpable style, a reach of performance above the merely dexterous. Perhaps those two extra digits?
Another dimension surely lay in the down-to-earth gyrations of the troupe. Instead of clinging to the high ceiling of the stage, they inhabited, with some exceptions, about the same sphere as agile pedestrians — even seated we seemed not far below their centers of gravity.
When I was a kid, I knew that, given the right conditions, I could fly; thanks to age and the intrusion of reality I was grateful for every moment “Traces” allowed me participate in closer impossibilities. But impossibilities so gracefully extended, embraced with such spirit, humor and good humor that they seemed, lit by stage lights, almost possible?
(“Traces” continues through October 12 at Emerson/Cutler Majestic Theatre, 219 Tremont St., Boston. For more information, visit artsemerson.org or call (617) 824-8400.)