Live Arts Festival: Sequence 8
Over the years, Live Arts Festival director Nick Stuccio has nurtured acrobatic-dancers’ productions that have something new to say theatricality. Two centerpiece shows this year have captured the imagination of festival and crossover audiences, young and old, both with thrilling theatricals that frame high-octane feats of daring.
Brian Sanders built the impressively menacing cyclone fence arena cage for The Gate Reopened, on Pier 9 in the shadows of the Ben Franklin Bridge. The elevated rails, scary accordion ladders, industrial apparatus and cascades of water in a trampoline finale that resembles fireworks of flying bodies. Its laser-light and shadowy atmospherics build a daring acrobatic bacchanalia.
His troupe of six men and two women execute Sanders ritualized scenes d’action with fearless skill, but this maintains a pure movement dance aesthetic as well. It is full of primal sensual beauty with fleshy aerial sculptures and as usual Sanders pulsing, blue-noir soundtrack, just drowns the audience in lustrous rhythms.
The Gate performances closed just as the Montreal-based 7 Fingers opened across town at the Merriam Theater with Sequence 8. 7 Fingers is the urban and urbane acrobatic troupe of fleet tumblers, vaulters, contortionists, many escapees from Cirque shows. Last year they brought their brand of metro-circus to Philly, on their days off from doing their highly successful run in New York. This year’s Sequence 8 amps up the theatrical threads with very dancey acrobatics, framing many of their dare devilish feats with reflectively beautiful choreography.
The show’s artistic director-choreographers, Shana Carroll and Sebastien Soldevila, create a synthesized theatrical with unexpected artistry and traditional circus thrills that audibly enchanted the many kids in the audience. For adults, this troupe is gets personal about their lives, grounded in their urban sensibilities and manic movement language.
A repeated thread in the show has them transmitting their energy, in Matrix-style slo-mo, into each other’s bodies before they launch into their particular acrobatic specialty. 7 Fingers also has a few understated same-sex scenarios that acknowledge their popularity with gay audiences, and presented in with completely naturalized sensibility.
Among the many thrills are Ugo Dario and Maxim Laurin executing the Korean Plank Dance, which features 25-foot catapults into the top rails of stage with air-slicing forward somersaults, pikes, lateral torso twists and the odd arabesque. Laurin explains that it represents to people constantly trying to find balance in their relationship, Dario said that the moves were just tricks.
Also doing amazing tricks in the air, whatever they mean, is Alexandra Royer on the bouncing Russian Bar held by two of the men. Her full layouts to tucks forward and backward on a moving bar were heart stopping. Later, Royer was the gorgeously cyclonic speed demon on the aerial hoop ala the Tasmanian devil.
Devin Henderson was a master of the Chinese Pole, triangulating his body, death diving downward headfirst, bounding off it from a high perch and spellbinding in a series of elegant strength moves. A neat tableaux with the whole troupe has them clustered at the top of the bar, well, I won’t give it away.
There are also ’Hand-to-Hand’ floor acrobatics, which in many cases requires the most strength, but may not be as seamless as working with anchoring apparatus. But part of 7 Fingers aesthetic is not to hide the flaws in the physicality.