The 7 Fingers flights of desire

The acrobatic love duet between Émilie and Julien Silliau is punctuated with the snap of a fan and the crack of a whip in Reversible, the latest creation by Les 7 Doigts, which enchanted audiences this weekend at Cal Performances’ Zellerbach Hall. The sounds of whip and fan add rhythmic bite to the voice over of Ionesco’s absurdist play, The Bald Soprano.

Like other productions by written, directed and choreographed by Gypsy Snider from her Montreal–based arts collective, Reversible invokes a storyline that is both personal to the performers and integrates their skills as circus artists. Acrobatics, pole climbing, Korean plank, hoop diving, juggling, and a host of aerial gymnastics, among others are integrated into a story of loss, hope and the ever-hungry human need to return home.

Émilie Silliau flies through the air into the arms of Les 7 Doigts in Reversible at Cal Performances’ Zellerbach Hall. Photo courtesy of The 7 Fingers.

The performance begins with the eight performers lined up in front of a wall with two windows and two doors. It’s a bleak-looking wall, light ochre in color, and the young people standing in front are in street wear – shorts, jeans, T-shirts, short casual dresses. Each one steps up to the microphone to tell, in their own language, some small fragment of their families’ stories. Like the grandmother who as a young woman ran away from home and country to marry the man who was the love of her life. This appears later in a short scene in which Emi Vauthey, whose grandmother it was, falls out of a small cupboard, tangled in yards and yards of consuming wedding dress tulle.

These first stories are kaleidoscopically told, offering bits and pieces of lives that shift into patterns. Gradually, the players disappear, over a windowsill, around a corner, through a door, until only one man, Vincent Jutras, is left, closed out of a door he cannot open.

This is followed by a sequence of all the performers diving in and out of windows and doors, walking and somersaulting along the wall’s edge, leaping to cling, suspended, in the frame of a window, all in a complicated choreography so fluidly performed it would have made a young Jackie Chan marvel at everyone’s athletic prowess. These performers were not only strong, they were graceful. They danced between catapulting and contorting. Even those who were the traditional circus mounts, the strong men of the group, were endowed with surprising grace.

In a later episode, Maria del Mar Reyes Saez, who balances in handstands around which her body slowly contorts and revolves, appeared with a handbag of keys, none of which seems to open the door she wants to enter.

What differentiates these circus skills from dance or martial arts, however, is their fearlessness. The friend who accompanied me to Reversible and who had studied theater, commedia dell’arte and circus arts said, “At no point in my life would I have ever been able to do any of that.” Me neither. Just the thought of dangling upside down 15 feet from the floor, tangled in a rope or drift of aerial silk, no net below, is enough to make me feel dizzy. It requires a daredevil fearlessness.

The wall, which symbolizes all our heartbreaking securities and insecurities, broke into three parts that were spun and angled, with an exterior on one side and an interior on the other, standing in, according to the director, for our exterior and interior lives. How we exceed those walls, whether by climbing a pole into the upper atmosphere, scaling a corde lisse, or being tossed in the air someone leaping on the other end of a teetering plank, is a thrilling event. One that makes the heart take wing, believing flight in all forms is possible.

Reversible ends domestically, at first with everyone hanging out laundry on a clothesline while Hugo Ragetly juggles white balls to astronomical heights. Then suddenly, the stage is filled with billowing white silk, and our earthbound angels toss and catch each other amid its cloud-like contours, confirming our inmost desires for youth, strength and madcap flight.

– Jaime Robles