By: Angela Guardiani
Acrobatics. Music. Heartbreak. Dance. Love. Flight. Language. Guitars and memory and banana bread.
Readers, I can't wait to tell you about this one.
The current show from the Mirvish's 2016-2017 season is called Cuisine & Confessions, performed by a company called The 7 Fingers (Les 7 Doigts). I'd never heard of them before, so I had no idea what to expect. All I could gather from the promotional material was that this show was food-themed and had some kind of circus aspect. What unfolded in front of me that night, though, was something incredible, something far beyond that rather prosaic description. It was indeed food-themed, in a set that was half dream kitchen and half gymnasium. Nine performers shared stories of their lives, from the beautifully mundane (the merits of round versus square kitchen tables) to the painfully raw (the loss of a father), and they did it through music, dance, and circus arts.
Remember the Rio Olympics this past summer? I remember watching those athletes, especially the gymnasts, and marveling at the beauty and power of the human body, at its flexibility and strength and the amazing feats of athleticism it can accomplish. Cuisine & Confessions is better, because all that same miraculousness of the human form is there but it's in the service of story and song, not competition and technique. Frankly, this was the most engaging, enjoyable show I've seen in a long time. If you are human, you will love this show.
Cuisine & Confessions has no intermission, so it flows organically from pre-show to finish. The show feels intimate, even in a theatre the size of the Princess of Wales. As you enter, the stage is fully lit, and the performers walk around freely, on and off the stage, joking, laughing, talking, eating gummy bears and offering them to the crowd. Normally, I hate audience participation – I hate the cutesy forced jolliness of it – but this was a different thing altogether. This was audience participation that was friendly, shared, consensual. It was something I could get behind – and I did, joining the performers on stage to julienne vegetables. The set is a completely working kitchen. The sink works, the oven works, the knives are real, the counters are solid, and the zucchini and peppers I chopped were absolutely real (and very delicious). Someone's always cooking something, right there on stage, in the background or in the spotlight.
All the stories are real and personal. One of the first is that of Melvin Diggs and Sidney Bateman. We hear their voices (pre-recorded) telling us about the difficulty of life as young Black men in St. Louis, of how hard it is to escape poverty and oppression. They tell us about the metaphorical hoops they had to jump through as they literally leap through Chinese hoops – wooden rings sometimes no wider than a foot - bodies alternately soaring and flowing like liquid. They look at each other with perfect trust as they support each other through complicated lifts and throws.
Anna Kichtchenko, the Russian aerialist, moves across the stage with slow, dragging movements as the other cast members read her grandmother's recipe for borscht and fling dresses over her head, more and more, until she rises out of the tangled mess of cloth into aerial silks – the burden of memory. And lovely Nella Niva, the Finnish acrobat, tells us the story of a childhood in the circus through clowning and song.
My favourite story, though, belongs to Matias Plaul. He performs on something called the Chinese pole, like a firefighter's pole but textured so it can be climbed. He tells us about his father, taken and presumed killed in the state sponsored terrorism of Argentina's Dirty War of the 1970s. There's an awful moment of total silence, and then he climbs the pole, past of the point of comfort, higher and higher. He stops at the top, turns himself upside down and is suspended for a moment, graceful, weightless, almost floating. Then he plunges straight down in a sickening freefall and catches himself with his nose no more than two inches from the ground. I have never seen death shown so beautifully.
Did I mention the music? It's fantastic, all original, created by New York jazz pianist Spike Wilner. And the juggling? And the corny comedy, the silly running gags? The multilingual cast? The food we watched being made and were invited to share at the end of the performance? There are so many things to love about this show. I want to tell you about all of them, but I would be doing you a disservice.
Thinking about this experience warms my heart. I honestly can't imagine a better show for right now.
Photos by Alexandre Galliez.