Thrilling circus show ‘Cuisine & Confessions’ is a captivating meal
A marvelous feast is being whipped up in the kitchen at the US premiere of “Cuisine & Confessions,’’ and it’s got nothing to do with either the omelet or the banana bread that are prepared onstage at the Cutler Majestic Theatre.
I’m speaking instead of the banquet for the senses offered by nine performers from the Montreal-based circus troupe Les 7 doigts de la main (The 7 fingers of the hand), who explore our relationship to food in ingeniously expressive ways: acrobatic, aerial, choreographic, and, OK, sometimes culinary.
These impossibly lithe and elastic performers turn themselves into human projectiles, hurtling about and above the Cutler Majestic stage as if oblivious to any limits on what is physically possible for the human body. No offense to our local sports stalwarts, but nothing that happens at Fenway Park, TD Garden, or Gillette Stadium comes anywhere close to the level of athleticism, teamwork, and split-second timing on display in this show.
The overall effect of “Cuisine & Confessions’’ — which takes place on a spacious kitchen set, complete with a working oven, a towering array of shelves, and a breakfast island — is to suggest a link between circus artistry and cooking, especially if those creative disciplines are approached, as they are here, in a spirit of playful yet expert collaboration.
It’s always an event when Les 7 doigts comes to town, and “Cuisine & Confessions’’ ranks among the troupe’s most spellbinding productions yet. Thrilling and dreamlike by turns, it’s the brainchild of Shana Carroll and Sebastien Soldevila, who also direct, and is presented in Boston by Jonathan Reinis Productions and ArtsEmerson, which also played host to earlier Les 7 doigts productions such as “PSY,’’ “Traces,’’ and “Sequence 8.’’
(These are, not so incidentally, exactly the sorts of innovative and challenging productions that have made ArtsEmerson such an indispensable force on the performing arts landscape, the occasional pretentious misfire notwithstanding. Would another presenting or producing organization in Boston so consistently throw out the welcome mat for a troupe like Les 7 doigts? Doubtful.)
Woven in and around the dazzling stunts in “Cuisine & Confessions’’ are first-person reminiscences and ruminations by the performers about the role food played in their lives. They are: Sidney Iking Bateman, Melvin Diggs, Mishannock Ferrero, Anna Kichtchenko, Heloise Bourgeois, Nella Niva, Emile Pineault, Matias Plaul, and Pablo Pramparo.
One performer describes how his taciturn family found it difficult to communicate except at the dinner table, while another tells of a childhood ritual in which his father would serve him and his siblings blueberry muffins. There are tales of chasing a brother around and around a round table, an unabashed ode to macaroons, and a declaration that “My childhood memories taste like popcorn.’’
And then, in a far more wrenching key, comes a haunting soliloquy by a performer who describes the kidnapping and murder of his father, one of “los desaparecidos’’ (“The Disappeared’’) who fell victim to Argentine military forces in the 1970s and 1980s. “I ask myself: What was his last meal? Who cooked it?’’ he says, giving physical expression to his grief and loss by shimmying up a Chinese pole and then plummeting, at stunning speed, down, to within inches of the stage floor.
There are times when your eye doesn’t know where to look in “Cuisine & Confessions,’’ there’s so much happening onstage, such a captivating blur of entwined or somersaulting or jackknifing bodies. In one moment you’re looking at a vertical tableau in which one performer balances, single-handed, on the single hand of another. In the next, you’re seeing two performers hurl themselves through stacked rectangles, first headfirst, then feetfirst. Then an aerialist employs silks that resemble homespun tablecloths and proceeds to create airborne visual poetry.
Factoring heavily into the show’s appeal are the ebullient personalities of the performers, who are as artless in their verbal exchanges as they are artful in their physical routines. They interact with, and sometimes feed (and in one case on opening night, courted) the audience, all while sustaining a burst of creative energy that recalls the joyous dance-party vibe of the kitchen scene in “The Big Chill.’’
At one point, a member of Les 7 doigts remarks that: “There is no recipe for love, for creation, for happiness.’’ Maybe not, but “Cuisine & Confessions’’ sure contains a lot of the essential ingredients.
CUISINE & CONFESSIONS
Creation and staging by Shana Carroll and Sebastien Soldevila. Production by Les 7 doigts de la main. Presented by ArtsEmerson and Jonathan Reinis Productions. At Cutler Majestic Theatre, through Aug. 7. Tickets: $25-$125, 617-824-8400, www.artsemerson.org