Yesterday I watched the amazing Seven Fingers of the Hand Circus. There were parts of it that were so beautiful and meaningful that I cried.
I decided to go because 2 of the 7 members have a history with the Bay Area “Pickle’s Family Circus” which was a fabulous intimate circus that disbanded about 10 years ago. I loved the Pickles Family Circus because it was “human” – I found Cirque de Soleil to be too cold and almost unhuman. What do I mean by this? Cirque de Soleil’s acts have a tendency to try to be high art – to divorce themselves from real people and become unemotional pure images of beauty – even the clown acts seem a bit ‘alien’ to me. Every act of Pickle’s, in contrast, was more human, with smiles and grunts and real emotions.
My favorite Pickle’s act was a pixie-sized contortionist clown climbing all over a large barrel-chested MC. He would try to push her to the floor and she would keep climbing up on him such that he never succeeds. In spite of his size (and audience expectation) the big MC would do some acrobatic things that you didn’t think a big guy like that could do. This would go on for 3-4 minutes, starting with frustration of the MC and the clowning pixie, and changing to their mutual appreciation of their differences – the athleticism and largeness of the MC, and the flexibility and smallness of the pixie.
Seven Fingers of the Hand was everything that I hoped for, and more. When we arrived, we were led down the side of the theatre and all of a sudden I noticed that it looked like we were were all being led backstage. We curve around and all of a sudden see an entrance – maybe 5 foot tall requiring most of us to duck. We duck through and to our surprise, we are have walked through a fridgerator, and we are on the stage!
One of the 7 players welcomes us, and another offers random people a glass of tea as we walk across the stage to our seats. The stage is set like a city loft, with a tv, some couches, a bed, a bathtub and shower, a kitchen, and of course the fridgerator we entered through. On the stage, and chatting to members of the audience are the 7 cast members, all wearing comfortable looking white shorts or athletic and white t-shirts.
The audience arrives over 30 minutes and the 7 players act as if we are guests of their loft, serving some of us tea, chatting, sweeping the floor, etc.
Then as everyone is seated, a fabulous DJ (who besides being able to scratch can also sing and play various instruments) is introduced, and the show begins.
It is really difficult for me to describe the show itself – there were over a dozen “acts” but they were all integrated together in such a way as to introduce the personalities and humanness of the players. I’ll instead point you to these reviews which describe it better then I can.
However, I can talk about what moved me – first off, there was of course the beauty and athleticism of the players. In particular, there was the double ‘tissu’ act, a solo by the contortionist Isabele Chasse, hanging from two red silk curtain 20 feet above the stage, while the DJ played music on the theme of temptation.
Next there was the intimacy – the Palace of Fine Arts is not a small theatre, but it felt intimate because of the way we arrived there and the way they treated us. Entering through the refrigerator door reminded me of the way you enter a Japanese tea house – it requires to to humble yourself and bow to enter the new space.
Finally, there was a subtle theme, not at all obvious, of the ‘teamness’ of the 7 players. This included playfullness, creative conflict, minor jealousy, admiration, copying – all as if the players lived in this loft together, like a cast of Friends. We were witness this artificact of their collaboration as if we were part of the collaboration.
I’m disappointed that they are leaving the Bay Area in a few days so that I can get all my friends to go, but I hope to see them the next time they return to the Bay Area and will drag all of my friends along.
While looking for show tickets for a present I accidentally found out this troupe is actually from Montreal and doing shows home these days. Went to see the show yesterday. They’re indeed excellent! I think two of the original creators are no longer in the show, though. A number of people came in late and entered together about 10min into the show through the fridge door as Patrick (the short, comic guy) was standing on top of it. Coming in on the stage is already disorienting, but seeing them being welcomed by cast members mid-act under the spotlights with everyone else sitting was delightful.
Life With Alacrity
© Christopher Allen