Every time they take the stage — or soar above it — the 7 Fingers test the limits of possibility.
The Montreal-based collective has chosen Boston’s ArtsEmerson, its frequent host over the past decade-plus, for the US premiere of “Duel Reality.” At the Emerson Cutler Majestic Theatre through Feb. 18, it’s a 70-minute circus-theater-dance mashup inspired by “Romeo and Juliet” and performed with that exhilarating 7 Fingers combination of energy and skill.
Created and directed by Shana Carroll, “Duel Reality” also nods to “West Side Story,” another work inspired by Shakespeare’s tragedy of star-crossed lovers. The influence of that classic 1957 musical is especially evident in the epic brawl between rival gangs in “Duel Reality,” where pandemonium meets precision.
I suspect that even “West Side Story” director and co-choreographer Jerome Robbins, famously prickly and hard to impress, would find much to admire in “Duel Reality.”
And perhaps to envy as well, for Carroll’s dancers are also acrobats and aerialists, and can be sent skyward in a trice. So the romance between Romeo (Gerardo Gutierrez Flores) and Juliet (Michelle Hernandez) is intensified by their duet on a trapeze. They also team up for a hand-to-hand routine, with her upside-down and balancing on one of his hands, one of many moments when you sit there shaking your head.
The premise of “Duel Reality” is that Romeo and Juliet are circus stars. The deadly rivalry between their respective families, the Montagues and the Capulets, is enacted as a blend of dance, circus stunts, and sports. The teamwork is, as ever with the 7 Fingers, fascinating — there’s no margin for error — and it’s fun to watch the performers transition into can-you-top-this? feats of individual virtuosity.
Half of the cast is dressed in blue, the other in red — gym clothes, essentially. One performer is attired in a black-and-white referee’s outfit. Before the show begins, red wristbands are distributed to one half of the audience, and blue wristbands to the other half. That sets the stage for an ending meant to signal peace, reconciliation, unity.
The 7 Fingers formula is to build a show within a conceptual framework, giving physical expression to broad themes. “Cuisine & Confessions,” for instance, which was at the Cutler Majestic in 2016, explored our relationship to food. “Sequence 8,” at the Cutler Majestic in 2012, was about, in the company’s lofty words, “the role of the ‘other,’ and how we define ourselves through and against it.” In my 2011 review of “PSY,” I called it “a transfixing circus spectacle that boggles both mind and eye,” and “has to be seen to be disbelieved.”
From time to time in “Duel Reality,” members of the cast deliver brief snippets of verse from “Romeo and Juliet.” Let’s just say that Judi Dench, Ian McKellen, Kenneth Branagh, and Mark Rylance need not look to their laurels.
But the performers in “Duel Reality,” as with other 7 Fingers shows, speak eloquently with their bodies. They specialize in making the near-miraculous seem routine. When a glitch occurs, as with the dropping of a ball Thursday night by a juggler, it only underscores the degree of difficulty involved.
Carroll has devised a creative and varied physical vocabulary to dramatize the passions that fuel “Romeo and Juliet.” For instance, Danny Vrijsen, as Tybalt, and Einar Kling Odencrants, as Mercutio, team up to astounding effect on the seesaw-like teeterboard, sending each other skyward and then somersaulting back down, somehow landing on their feet each and every time.
Kalani June and Andrew Price execute marvels on the Chinese pole, somehow extending their bodies perpendicular to the pole, like human flags. Aerial Emery keeps hula hoops spinning at impossible speeds above her head and around her body. (I wrote “incredible” in my notebook during her performance, and that about sums it up.)
The overall effect is to awaken your sense of wonder. “Duel Reality” is the seventh show I’ve seen by the 7 Fingers, and I’m already looking forward to the eighth.
Created and directed by Shana Carroll. Production by the 7 Fingers. Presented by ArtsEmerson. At Emerson Cutler Majestic Theatre. Through Feb. 18. Tickets at 617-824-8400, ArtsEmerson.org