Cuisine and Confessions: A New Take on Dinner Theatre by Les Sept Doigts de la Main
Reviewed by Jane Baldwin
July 17, 2016 Sunday at 4:42 am
Photo Alexandre Galliez. Performer Anna Kichtchenko
Boston welcomes back Les Sept Doigts de la Main (the Seven Fingers of the Hand) in their latest production Cuisine and Confessions, the fourth circus show that the company has brought to ArtsEmerson. The seven fingers (as the performers are referred to) have grown to nine for their current production. Cuisine and Confessions, like their earlier works, combines acrobatics, dance, song, storytelling, juggling, aerial silks, and occasional live music. Most of the Cuisine and Confessions performers trained at Montreal’s National Circus School, which gives a particular unity to their style.
As often the case in contemporary theatre, the immersive show tries to break down the barriers between performers and audience. At the opening, some of the artists play catch with the spectators using props such as balls and eggs, while other artists approach a few spectators to ask if they would like to participate. Those who agree are brought on stage at various junctures, perhaps fed a bit of food, get a few laughs, and return to their seats.
Set in a fully equipped kitchen, complete with oven, refrigerator, sink, tall shelves, a ladder, a long counter, and cooking paraphernalia, food is skillfully prepared by the company in rhythm with Eastern European music, sometimes at the beginning and/or end of an athletic or dance routine. With so much going on, spectators may have the impression of seeing two shows at once. The narrative revolves around personal revelations pertaining to eating, usually spoken behind a tall microphone. The microphone’s poor sound combined with the heavily accented English and weak acting of a number of the players often interferes with comprehension, which is unfortunate because the players’ monologues are comical and touching human interest stories. One character fondly reminisces about the kitchen table of his youth, whose round shape allowed room for lots of guests at their family breakfasts. An Argentinian, whose father was one of the disappeared, tries to feel closer to the dead man by imagining what his last meal might have been.
The most exciting elements of Cuisine and Confessions are the gymnastic feats. Male acrobats leap through empty window frames; fling the lithe Héloïse Bourgeois high into the air and catch her with grace; juggle and dance at the same time, and climb the tall Chinese pole, hold poses, and slide down. The standout of the production, however, is Anna Kitchchenko, the aerialist and contortionist extraordinaire. Strong, beautiful, graceful, and fearless, she fascinates with her skill on the silks – in this show, sometimes long dish towels – and on the floor where she twists her entire body around itself.
As Cuisine and Confessions drew towards the finish, the theatre filled with the aroma of baking banana bread and boiling pasta. To the thrill of the audience, particularly the children present, the food the cast had prepared was offered to them. A happy ending for all.
Since its origin fourteen years ago Les Sept Doigts de la Main has expanded remarkably. This small circus that was inspired by the far more lavish Cirque de Soleil, both products of Montreal, has become an international business with several troupes on the road at a time. While the success of the company is to be applauded, it has lost much of its national quality.
ArtsEmerson and Jonathan Reinis Productions present Cuisine and Confessions
Creating and Staging …………….. Shana Carroll and Sébastien Soldevila
Sidney Iking Bateman, Héloïse Bourgeois, Melvin Diggs, Mishannock Ferrero, Anna Kichtchenko, Nella Niva, Emile Pineault, Matias Plaul, Pablo Pramparo
Plays through August 7, 2016 at the Cutler Majestic, 219 Tremont Street, Boston, MA