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Cuisine & Confessions by The 7 Fingers - updated to include both the opening and closing performances

by Robert Abrams
April 11, 2017
NYU Skirball Center for the Performing Arts
566 LaGuardia Place at Washington Square
New York, NY 10012
212-998-4941
To purchase tickets to "Cuisine & Confessions", click here.

Company website: www.7doigts.com

See also C.J. Biene's review and reflections.
Cuisine & Confessions performance program (Cuisine Program-1.pdf)
"Cuisine & Confessions" was fresh and daring, if a little heavy on the banana. It was unlike anything I have seen before in some ways, but seen from another perspective it fit well within dance traditions.

Dance often has a tension between pure abstraction on the one hand, and narrative on the other. This show by The 7 Fingers (from Montreal) was what I would describe as thematic abstraction. It fell somewhere in between pure abstraction and narrative. The narrative elements were mostly profiles of the artists, rather than one full evening story. The profiles and other segments were primarily tied together with food as the common element - often with actual cooking, live on stage.

The show felt like a series of sketches, rather than one coherent whole. (This, and much else in this review, is intended as a description, and not as criticism positive or negative.) The profiles were often as much a suggestion of the story of the artist than an explicit telling of that story. Very solid technique carried choreography with a fair measure of seeming randomness. The sketches were to some extent held together by the overall common style of dance. With the variety, it was a bit like a cabaret, which is a valid theater tradition, even if it is less like a typical dance show. The show was often analogous to a three ring circus, in the sense that there would be a presentation in the foreground, and one or more other presentations in the background or on the sides that were oppositional and different in some way to the foreground action, creating a focal point surrounded by frenetic energy.

What dance style was this show? It was largely unlike anything I have seen before. The movement drew on multiple sources of inspiration, but overall I would go with "dancerly acrobatics". In terms of dance styles that might have been an inspiration, or a convergence, the movement often felt like Capoeira in the sense of a similar playful, round energy – and the very real chance that one slightly mis-timed move could result in a blow to the head.

This type of show, and dance style, has a risk of over-emphasizing spectacle and virtuoso leaps (or equivalent) to the detriment of artistry. This is the same risk found in figure skating and some prominent ballet companies. The humor of the show kept "Cuisine & Confessions" from being pure spectacle, but it is an inherent risk of the style. I would advise that the company work on segments that intentionally emphasize artistry with less spectacle, not to change this show, but as a rehearsal process to explore and develop as artists.

To the extent that the show was spectacle, it was deserved: there is no faking a 20-foot head-first drop, stopping a foot above the floor, with no net. The artists repeatedly executed difficult moves with precision. They missed their mark only once, and that one may have been intentional for comic effect.

The cast served a few audience members coffee before the official opening curtain, one audience member became a part of the show and was served an omelet, and the entire audience had a chance to eat after the final curtain. At the end of the show, the banana bread, which was baked in an oven on the stage as the show progressed, was fresh baked hot out of the oven and delicious, if a little heavy on the banana, almost more banana than bread.

They also cooked pasta on stage and served it to the audience at the end of the show, but they ran out before I had a chance to try it. This was really the only flaw in the show. While I understand how difficult it is to cook for large numbers of people, from first hand experience - (the house was fairly full, so if you don't have tickets yet, buy some quick), eating food cooked on stage was the final act of this innovative show. Since the food was in fact genuinely well made, making sure that everyone in the audience can try it would ensure everyone has the complete experience of the show, and would also make the audience more likely to attend the company's shows again. Given the high quality of the show itself, it would be a shame if some of the audience's last experience of the show felt unsatiated. If they can't fit a big enough stove or oven on stage, I would be okay with it if they "cheated" and cooked the amount of food they did on stage, plus cooked more backstage. A related problem at the end of the show was the traffic jam that materialized when half the audience tried to get down the aisles to the front of the stage where the pasta was being served. This is a problem common to many eating establishments which need to serve a large number of people in a short amount of time. There is no perfect solution, and there will be space constraints the company has no control over, especially since most of the time they will be in spaces not designed for food service, but given that the food is so important to this show, it might be worthwhile to hire a designer who specializes in crowd flow: the better the audience flows to the food, the more likely they are to savor the dish rather than just eat it.

The show was also missing a potato masher in the shape of a duck – just to show how far one has to stretch to find anything that might make the show better.

"Cuisine & Confessions" was very good as one show, but it would be even better as part of a repertoire. I could see a show where the thematic tie between the stories was acrobatics, rather than food. A show with one evening length narrative. A show using the same dance style, with pure abstraction. On the other hand, if you are like my daughter, you might be perfectly happy to go to the theater night after night, season after season, and eat the same pasta every time.




4/16/2017

I saw the show a second time today for the closing matinee performance. I brought some friends. They were as impressed with the quality and uniqueness of the show as I have been, and they have long involvement in the theatre, so they have seen as much great theatre as I have seen great dance, and quite possibly more than I.

There were a fair number of small kids in the audience. Some were talking a bit during the show, as kids will do, but I didn't find it distracting in the least. Kids need a welcoming space to be introduced to how to observe theatre and dance, and not just at "kids' shows." A "Cuisine & Confessions" matinee is a great choice of a show to bring your kids. Some of the subject matter in the show is rather dark and difficult to deal with, even for adults, but most of it is not, and today explaining difficult topics to kids is an inevitable part of parenting, even if you manage to hide the newspapers, TV news, computers and phones.

In my previous review, I largely emphasized how this show was so different from anything else. Upon second viewing this is still true, but I started to see more connections. There was a sizable segment of "The Last Supper" that reminded me of Rioult's "Bolero" – that connection puts The 7 Fingers in good company. It would be fun to see "The Last Supper" and "Bolero" presented on the same program.

The use of flour in the show's "Chop Chop Miam Miam" was artful, but it turns out that I have seen a dance company work flour into choreography before, albeit in a show with a much smaller scale (Notario Dance Company).

It also turns out that The 7 Fingers is not quite as new and unique as I thought. That originality belongs to The 7 Fingers, which ExploreDance.com reviewed in 2016 and 2015.

I noticed that the dancers often marked their moves, and not just the woman from Argentina, Gabriela Parigi, who came charging full tilt towards another performer, and stopped, with enviable stillness, upside down supported by her hands with her legs bent over the other performer and parallel to the floor, on the beat. There were other numbers where the performers completed juggling type catches on the beat of the music, every time as best as I could tell.

This show is so good that there is really no way to improve it, but since some might think I am going easy on them this way, I would go with, in addition to the definite need for a duck shaped potato masher, Peabody. There was some music in the part of the show before the "opening curtain" that sounded like it could be Peabody, a line-of-dance partner dance from the 1920s. The show is already plenty wild and inventive, but if they ever get bored of hanging from the ceiling, they could add some Peabody.

The one thing that could be improved, which is not a part of the show proper, is the crowd flow for people who want to try the pasta at the end of the show after the bows. Today, I used my inside knowledge, having been at the show before, and moved to the front of the stage as soon as it was legit to do so. I used to run Track, so I still know how to get out of the blocks quickly. When standing at the front of the stage as they were serving pasta, I think I saw what the problem was. The plates of pasta were positioned at the front edge of the stage, in the center. People were walking across the space between the first row of seats and the stage (from the edges to the center), from both directions (left and right sides). This meant that anyone already sitting in the front row center, or who got there quickly, or who were in the second row center, easily got pasta. Because people were entering the row from both ends, the people who got there first were mostly trapped, and no one else could easily get in. A solution might be to direct people to enter the front row from one side of the stage and exit as soon as they got their pasta to the opposite side. Another solution might be to position the pasta at the end of both aisles running down towards the stage, instead of in the center front of stage. If there isn't enough space for a line of people moving towards the stage and another line moving away in each aisle, which there probably isn't, the crowd would either have to be directed down the aisles and out to the left and right at the front of the stage towards the sides, or in from the left and right and out and up the two aisles. Either solution would require cast members or ushers to do a little crowd control, but it should only make things less convenient for no more than 10 audience members, and much more satisfying and pastaficating for everyone else. Or, serve the pasta in small sample cups, preferably clear compostable ones, with compostable cutlery. Each person would get less pasta, but if there is a full house, which there usually is, not everyone can have the pasta because it may run out. With smaller portions in sample cups, everyone could have a taste. (And maybe hand out recipes, with a coupon for a discount on the next show or 7 Fingers merchandise.)

I noticed today that the choices of acrobatics were tied to the mood of each segment, at least in several segments. Probably in all of them, but I would need to see the show a third time to be sure. Right now I would have to go to Ottawa over the summer for that, which would be a bit of a trip, but 441 miles and an eight hour drive if I never stop, for some pasta and a show? For "Cuisine & Confessions" I just might.

Photo © & courtesy of Alexandre Galliez


Photo © & courtesy of Alexandre Galliez


Photo © & courtesy of Alexandre Galliez


Photo © & courtesy of Alexandre Galliez


Photo © & courtesy of Alexandre Galliez

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