|Melvin Diggs & Sidney Iking Bateman in "Cuisine & Confessions"|
ArtsEmerson's current production, Cuisine & Confessions, is the fifth visit to Boston by Les 7 doigts de la main, or “7 Fingers” as they are now calling themselves, the wonderfully wild and witty circus troupe based in Montreal. The “cuisine” on the menu is less of a dinner or buffet than a collection of tapas, consisting of the “confessions”, or individual back stories of the nine performers as they prep, mix and cook, ultimately resulting in banana bread made, baked and served by them.
The multitalented cast of nine provided an array of visual delights that ranged from tumbling to juggling to aerial spectacle. Everyone in the ensemble was sublimely professional and a joy to see and hear. There were some highlights that stood out, but in the end it was the sort of communal presentation that defies singling anyone out, though the heartbreaking narration and accompanying acrobatics by Matias Plaul as he tells of his father's being “disappeared” in Chile is unforgettable. Sidney Iking Bateman, Melvin Diggs, Mishannock Ferrero, Anna Kichtchenko, Heloise Bourgeois, Nella Niva, Emile Pineault, Matias Plaul and Pablo Pramparo were individually and collectively splendid. So were the Creation and Staging by Shana Carroll and Music Director Sebastian Soldevila (even including an audiovisual Bolero), Sound Design by Colin Gagne, Lighting Design by Eric Champoux, Scenography by Ana Cappelluto and Costume Design by Anne-Seguin-Poirier.
The cast crossed off ingredients on a blackboard as the performance proceeded. Even the program notes got into the act, providing the recipe for the banana bread. For the record, that goes like this: Cream 4 ounces butter with 4 ounces of sugar. Mix in six crushed bananas, then two eggs, one at a time. Add vanilla extract and chocolate chips to taste. Combine 9 ounces of flour, one teaspoon of baking soda and a pinch of salt, then slowly mix into the creamed mixture. Pour into greased and floured loaf pan. Bake at 350 degrees for about fifty minutes or until cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. (Though they had the audience set their cellphones at thirty-six minutes, so take the timing with a grain of salt).
The results of their labors and incredible flour power was not merely a dessert, but about eighty-five minutes of astonishing acrobatics and hysterical humor. While their efforts were extraordinarily difficult and demanding, this troupe made it all seem like, well, a piece of cake.