Circus performers rely on precise choreography and, often, specific equipment pertaining to their specialty areas — be it the Russian bar, Chinese pole, or a carefully weighted trapeze.
Detailing the various kinds of acts included in her latest circus creation, Shana Carroll lands on an unexpected phrase when she describes how the performers pull off “the omelet number.”
For “Cuisine & Confessions,” the latest production by the Montreal-based circus collective Les 7 Doigts De La Main (7 Fingers of the Hand), the equipment onstage includes a working oven and refrigerator.
The omelet number is one of several segments of the show in which Les 7 Doigts’ circus performers tell revealing stories from their personal lives while cooking food on stage. If there’s a malfunction with the kitchen equipment, there’s less threat to life and limb than if, say, the trapeze isn’t hung just right.
“I think one time they served a very runny omelet,” Carroll says of a past mishap.
“Cuisine & Confessions,” which begins a month-long run Tuesday at the Cutler Majestic Theatre, is the fourth show by Les 7 Doigts that ArtsEmerson has brought to Boston. It’s created by Carroll and husband Sébastien Soldevila, and features the exploits of nine performers.
In keeping with the troupe’s particular vision of contemporary circus, the show includes stunning feats of physical agility presented within a themed context. The idea this time is to explore the relationship between food and memory, as performers describe the personal significance of various dishes while preparing them — and then hurtling headlong through the air, or whatnot.
Carroll, who worked as a trapeze artist and later a choreographer for Pickle Family Circus and Cirque du Soleil, is seated in a mostly empty rehearsal room at Emerson College’s Paramount Center. As it happens, there are some stacked-up tumbling mats in there, an upright piano, and assorted script pages from Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” scattered on the floor. Carroll is in Boston for two days, doing press interviews.
She takes care to point out that storytelling is integral to Les 7 Doigts performances, not merely a framing device to set up the next circus act.
“Quite often in shows like Cirque du Soleil, there is a story line that’s weaved throughout or put on top, but the acrobatics aren’t really part of that. There’s just a sort of parenthesis and a setup where the number has a concept,” she says. “I just want to point out that in this show we’re really using the acrobatics to actually tell the story, and to embody certain things and keep things moving dramaturgically as an acrobatic expression. It’s not just creating a story line and putting acrobatics into it.”
So when performer Sidney Iking Bateman — who broke a Guinness world record in 2013 by executing 42 consecutive back handsprings — talks in this show about how good the banana bread served in a program for at-risk youth tasted to him as a child, the recipe figures into his diabolo performance. When he and Melvin Diggs later do a hoop-diving act, it ties thematically with their escape from the troubled areas of St. Louis where they grew up.
As is the Les 7 Doigts style, each of the performers is onstage for most of the time. While they receive solo showcases, as is customary in circus, they are also involved in group acrobatics and additional storytelling.
Argentine-born acrobat Matias Plaul, whose specialty is the Chinese pole, worked with Carroll at Cirque du Soleil before joining Les 7 Doigts. Among other feats, he cooks pasta in “Cuisine & Confessions” while talking about the simple foods his mother would prepare for him after his father was “disappeared” by a dictatorial regime.
Plaul is accustomed to the physical demands of his job. This show, though, requires new levels of commitment.
“I’ve told my story like 300 times, so I have to bring back these emotions that I had the first time. When I told my friends [the story included in the show] I was crying like a little kid. And every night I need to keep that emotion,” Plaul says, speaking on a Skype call from the dressing room after an opening-night performance at the Tanzsommer festival in Innsbruck, Austria.
The personal sharing also underlines the reality that the performers who pull off improbable, gravity-defying feats are, in fact, just people. The convention of presenting circus performers as almost superhuman does not jibe with Les 7 Doigts’ aesthetic, in which wearing street clothes onstage or even missing the first attempt at a stunt simply enhances the audience’s ability to relate.
“If you’re not reminded of their humanity, it’s easy to just kind of think, OK, this is a creature who’s otherworldly. And I think that’s a lot of what the focus of some other shows are, the otherworldliness of it,” Carroll says.
That doesn’t mean there are long stretches without any eye-opening acrobatics, or that the exacting choreography surrounding the baking of banana bread — which is meant to complete just as the show finishes, and the treat is shared with the audience — is the only thing calibrated down to the instant.
Plaul says circus and cooking are a natural fit.
“If you see the cooks in a big kitchen in a restaurant, it looks like they are doing choreography. And probably they are, but they don’t [think of it like that]. For us, it’s the same way.”
But if the omelet number yields a runny result, no one is going to send it back.
Cuisine & Confessions
Created by Les 7 Doigts De La Main. Presented by ArtsEmerson. At Cutler Majestic Theatre, July 12-Aug. 7. Tickets: $25-$95, 617-824-8400, www.artsemerson.org