• By: Keith Whittier

Les 7 Doigts’ Cuisine & Confession Will Make You Laugh and Cry

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It would be a case of a hardened critic to not appreciate the talent and artistry of the 7 Doigts' Cuisine and Confession performance for NAC's Canada Scene. In a truly dazzling and amazing display of physical acrobatics, the cast stuns. But the true story is about how life in a household kitchen moulds our beings with regards to family and relationships. And we were treated to a heart-melting surprise at the end of the show.

Les 7 Doigts or the 7 Fingers is a collective of 7 circus artists who came together and founded a company in 2002. Each of them has at one time performed with the Cirque du Soleil. The projects they release are as diverse as the artists themselves: original productions, Broadway shows, artistic collaborations, project direction, custom designed events, performances for Olympic ceremonies, televised creations, and immersive performance experiences. They now present over 500 shows per year around the globe.

Fascinated by the human condition, Les 7 Doigts create performances that speak about our world and our time. Thus the origin of the Cuisine and Confessions show. Shana Caroll, one of the founding artists, was in her kitchen with her husband. They were brainstorming on a possible theme for a show. He was cooking and she looked at him and said, “What if we do a cooking show?” They laughed and wondered if that was even possible, to cook on stage, while combining circus and cooking. They settled on the idea of food memories: combining confession-like moments of storytelling, both physical and verbal, with childhood recipes.

As I walked into the National Arts Centre, Babs Asper Theatre, the troupe was warming up. Part of the pre-show activity is for the actors to stretch and warm up certain tricks. Playing around with each other helps them to relax and get centered. They 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 points, perhaps fed a bit of food, get a few laughs, and return to their seats.

Meanwhile they have to cut vegetables, grate cheese and preset all of their props and food items. It’s so great to watch people tumble and chop just inches away from each other, alternating which activity they’re doing!

Set in a fully equipped kitchen, complete with oven, refrigerator, sink, tall shelves, a ladder, a long counter, and cooking paraphernalia, food is prepared by the company in rhythm at the beginning and/or end of an athletic or dance routine. There is a lot going on. I had the impression of seeing many shows at once.

The narrative revolves around personal confessions and childhood memories relating to eating. One of the first ones was about making a perfect omelette with four ingredients. A lady audience member was chosen to share the omelette on-stage in a makeshift romantic venue, complete with an accordion player. The omelette is cooked up with flare. Whisks are juggled not just by one person but among the players as they run around the stage. Finally, the lady is served.

Another character fondly reminisces about the kitchen table of his youth, whose round shape allowed room for lots of guests at their family breakfasts. He demonstrates enthusiastically how running around a square table has you bumping into corners.

At some point, the story of the perfect banana bread comes up. The cast mix up a batch, put the batter into moulds and pops them into the oven. The audience is then instructed to set their cell phone timers to go off in 37 minutes.

Interspersed with the stories are the most exciting elements of Cuisine and Confessions; the gymnastic feats. Male acrobats effortlessly leap through empty window frames; fling an actor high into the air and catch them with grace; juggle and dance at the same time, and climb a tall Chinese pole, hold poses, and slide down.

Anna Kitchchenko is a breathtaking aerialist and contortionist extraordinaire. Strong, graceful, and fearless, she entrances with her skill on the silks and amazes on the floor where she twists her entire body around itself. I have a challenge going into Full Wheel pose in yoga and here she is prancing around the stage in that pose!

The show is almost over. As the cell phone timers run out, the stage lighting focuses on the oven which starts beeping that the banana bread is ready. All the cell phones in the audience start buzzing and beeping at the same time. We are asked to stay behind and share the freshly cooked banana bread.

Except… that one of the actors comes to centre-stage. He admits that usually he picks a random person from the audience to share the omelette on-stage. But today he picked his girl-friend. He asks her to join him on-stage. There in front of us all, he gets down on one knee, pulls out a ring and asks her to marry him.

What a perfect ending. After all, this happens in any kitchen doesn’t it?