Culture & Conversation

Subtle Circus

I had no idea what I was in for at the Tohu on Saturday night. The decision to see Séquence 8 by Les 7 doigts de la main had been my husband’s. As Montreal’s usual six degrees of separation would have it, he had gone to high school with one of the founders. I’d seen a clip of Eric Bates performing his mesmerizing cigar box act in the halls of Radio-Canada, but that was the extent of my exposure to the collective, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year.

Like many others living in this city with exacting circus standards, set by none other than the world-renowned Cirque du Soleil, I was expecting a performance with a new take on the traditional circus acts, some vibrant costumes, bright lights, pulsating music, and a slew of flexible acrobats performing death-defying stunts. But the new take this time was subtlety, which produced stunning and unforeseen results. Séquence 8 presented a small troop of eight acrobats casually dressed in muted colours, performing to an indie rock soundtrack with minimal props and a sparse décor. It was a stellar example of less being more.

This brilliant pared-down approach not only reduced all the usual stimuli competing for the audience’s attention but it put the focus squarely on the collective’s world-class acrobatics, which left the audience nothing short of gobsmacked. In fact, I can’t recall ever attending any other circus performances where I’d repeatedly heard such a loud chorus of gasps, but it might be because they weren’t drowned out by the music.

Although the best acts may be the subject of fierce debate, my personal favourite was flying man Devin Henderson with his diving through hoops and scaling the Chinese pole. His work seemed so effortless that even when there were flaws they seemed planned to give the audience a little more gut-wrenching angst and a greater thrill when he succeeded in subsequent attempts. A close second was Alexandra Royer on the Russian bar, and it wasn’t the sheer height or difficulty of her double back lay-outs, it was her silent landings on the bar held by porters Eric Bates and Tristan Nielsen. In fact, it was the many small details such as the performers’ choreographed steps and interconnected movements, the sparse sensual lighting and the use of improv and humour that made for an unforgettable evening.

Séquence 8 was an intimate show that exceeded my expectations for a circus performance and made it abundantly clear to me for the first time why it is considered an art form.

Heather Leighton blogs at the Unexpected Twists and Turns.


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