Down, instead of up. That is how things fall when they are dropped. But in the worlds of circus and dance, the body doesn’t have to give the appearance of being a servant to gravity. In the worlds of circus and dance, the body can defy gravity. And gravity is what pulls three pieces by three different choreographers together in Les 7 Doigts’ “Triptyque,” presented as part of Melbourne Festival at the Playhouse late on a Sunday afternoon. A swirling galaxy is made, beginning with Marie Chouinard’s “Anne & Samuel,” and Victor Quijada’s “Variations 9.81,” before pulling up the bed covers with Marcos Morau’s “Nocturnes.” Gravity is a beautiful force to test.
To see performers on the stage or beneath the big top, testing the laws of gravity through orchestrated movement is also one of the reasons I head to the theatre or circus. From where I sit, motionless, I can, through the art of transference, feel what it is like to soar. This is freedom: freedom from my own heavy and uncoordinated limbs; freedom from any kind of physical injury or mental anguish; freedom from routine. This is escapism. And in the hybrid landscape of dance paired with circus, or rather, in the case of Les 7 Doigts, circus with dance, I am afforded the jolt of liberation I crave.
A composite state of circus meets dance affords freedom not only from gravity, but from rules, and expectations. And so a perturbed postman glides through the scene on a unicycle, before colliding into mime, and the tails of the Spanish web recall those of giant unseen animals as they thwack the stage. With Frida Kahlo and Restless Dance Theatre’s Michelle Ryan in mind, I had come for “Anne & Samuel”—to see how a body can move when a pair of crutches is required for mobility, be it due to injury, disability, or age; to see movement through perceived limitation; to see reinvention and resilience—but it is beneath the covers of “Nocturnes” that my heart curls.
If in dream, we can swim through the air, in the liminal state between consciousness and semi-consciousness, within Morau’s “Nocturnes” the pull of gravity is turned upon its fishy head. Scaled and glorious, and gone from view before my eyes can adjust to the light, to the crackle of radio static, the school of fish weave. Snap! A flicker of blue light, and I appear to have fallen asleep in front of the TV again. Alone, in a hotel room, or perhaps a hospital ward, change the channel, spin the radio dial, it’s much the same: not what you’d normally expect and yet utterly normal. Turn the dial once more, a bed upended. In a world where a man in a handstand spinning on a turntable is a table lamp: what did you expect?
“Nocturnes” is “an oneiric voyage in which each individual will find his own representations, because the purest form of freedom only exists inside …. dreams.”1 And so, for me, the hands poking through the mattress of the upturned bed become both handy footholds for rock climbers and Cocteau’s wall mounted chandeliers in his film, The Beauty and the Beast.2 As the bed flies, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, my magic carpet ride. On closer inspection, the monsters under my bed are more akin to clowns engaged in tomfoolery. Yoked to Chopin, Glass, and Richter, with shades of film noir, infomercial babble and mouthorgan too, the musical composition of Nans Bortuzzo serves as a beautiful sound collage to the narrative I am devising.
Of the three pieces, to me, it feels the stronger meld of circus and dance, playing to the nimble-fingered talents of Joachim Ciocca, Marie-Ève Dicaire, Geneviève Drolet, Kyra Jean Green, Sara Harton, Samuel Tétreault, Nicolas Montes de Oca, and Matthew Pasquet. With the aerial ropes spun into a maypole, Dicaire rises from the knotted cradle to walk the slackline, and watching her outstretched arms wave in the air as she searches for her centre of balance, I am rendered a five-year-old at the circus. Agog. Will she fall? With a fushigi gravity ball, de Oca becomes a conjurer levitating a snowdome that later I will explore from the inside looking out as snow falls to the stage floor. Some things are susceptible to gravity after all.
An assured use of props serves as a common thread through the three works. Rooted in circus, this is perhaps no surprise, but it is the delicious second nature of the props that allows me to read ropes for tails and figures for nightlights. Ciocca makes an additional limb of his unicycle in an evening when ‘why be human when you can fly?’ Harton and Tétreault, in “Anne & Samuel,” shape-shift into a pair of beguiling insect-like creatures through the use of crutches. With all four limbs now of equal length, the torso is free to swing and arch in new ways. Briefly, I saw the freedom of re-embodiment through their weightless movements, partly because this was what I wanted to see. My pre-conceived longing to see how the body can recover from injury coloured my view. “Anne & Samuel’s” universe is kinbaku, first and foremost; it is a raw connection of “primal light, coded sounds and protean forms through vigorous and incandescent movements,”3 that adds fire to dreams and forges bondage of the aerial harness.
From the animalistic attracting forces to the weightless upside-down quintet of Quijada’s “Variations 9.81,” gravity is flouted. Framed entirely around the strength and beauty of hand-balancing, Dicaire, Drolet, Tétreault, de Oca, and Pasquet, appear to split their forms in two; their controlled upper bodies in contrast with their legs that move like bands of kelp. Arranged in a circle formation, their legs become the open-and-close of a lotus that would surely have made Esther Williams proud. When Dicaire’s elbows are playfully ‘pinged’ by a fellow performer, they bend in accordance, unbelievably so.
Their name may be in reference to the seven founding directors of the company, distinct yet operating as one, but I cannot help but think of the Yiddish folk expression, Mit alle zibn finger, ‘to work as hard and fast as possible with all seven fingers.’ Seemingly with seven fingers, all, it is hard to imagine Les 7 Doigts could be more skilful as they scale, zip, balance, and float. Just like Chagall’s seven-fingered self-portrait: oh! the new worlds you create! Weightless. Free. Yippee!
- Marcos Morau, choreographer’s note, “Nocturnes,” Les 7 Doigts: Triptyque programme, Melbourne Festival, 2016
- La Belle et la Bête (1946), screened with music performed by the Philip Glass Ensemble at the Melbourne Recital Centre as part of Melbourne Festival 2016
- Marie Chouinard, choreographer’s note, Anne & Samuel, Les 7 Doigts: Triptyque programme, 2016