Triptyque: choreographing the circus by DREW ROWSOME 16 November 2017
by Drew Rowsome
What's stored in the brain constantly influences what we see
Triptyque continues the quest of Les 7 Doigts (Cuisine & Confessions) to expand the concept of the circus. Samuel Tetreault, one of the founders of Les 7 Doigts, collaborated with three renowned choreographers - Marie Chouinard, Victor Quijada and Marcos Morau - to explore and see what would happen when the arts of circus and dance combine. The results are mixed but never less than extraordinarily beautiful and fascinating.
Split into three parts - the triptych of the title - the sections are loosely joined with the help of the finest but trickiest of circus arts: clowning. Part One, "Anne et Samuel," is a pas de deux involving Midori-style bondage, crutches used as an elastic extension that redefines the way we look at disabilities, crunching brown wrapping paper underfoot that becomes the sound of rain, and a sumptuous cello score. The two performers feint, fight and explore the space and each other. In one startlingly intimate moment, the man picks up the woman using his mouth on her neck, like a cat with a kitten.
Oddly the performers are only listed in the front of the program with no sense of who appears in which scene. However Tetreault is instantly recognizable and his acrobat-muscled physique and breathtaking flexibility makes "Anne et Samuel" consistently watchable, even for those of us who would like more circus balancing out the dance. Tetreault, a hand-balancing master, has also collaborated with photographer Louis Ducharme as part of Ducharme's Unlimited Man series, and in the second part, "Variations 9.81," Tetreault and his cohorts demonstrate just how unlimited they are.
While the stage is being re-set between acts, two clowns tackle a version of the classic Emmett Kelly routine and transform a broom into many magical comic moments. When the curtain opens, there is a forest of hand-balancing stands spiked into the stage. The acrobats/dancers move through and on the stands, shift them around and the upside-down choreography, gravity is inverted with arms being the support and legs the expressive elements, is effectively both evocative and awe-inspiring. A brief parody of country line-dancing is hilarious and one holds one's breath as to how a human can be so strong and graceful.
The third section, "Noctures," is the most dazzling, the most circus. The clowns return and enter a vaguely hospital setting dominated by a huge bed. The allusions fly fast and furious with the bed transforming, elevating, and becoming the stuff of nightmares and dreams. The waking dream setting allows for the interjection of circus acts of all kinds: aerial acts, a unicycle and an astonishingly delicate juggling act where crystal balls seem to float across the juggler's hand and body. Everyone will pull different themes and shocks of recognition from the flood of images, it is all dependent on one's memories, experiences and obsessions. I was moved to the core as the monster under the bed slithered out to descend and transform into a chorus line. A good portion of the audience found it hilarious and laughed uproariously, cultural references and experiences vary.
Les 7 Doigts deserve credit for pushing the boundaries and my only quibble, and I admit it may be completely personal, is that Triptyque is self-consciously high art (the dance influence?). As such it can be ponderous, slow and the narration is - including the quote at the top of this post - oblique and obvious simultaneously. I would argue that circus is art. But that doesn't mean that the stretching and mashing isn't valuable and compelling. There are moments in Triptyque that will haunt me forever, the greatest gift a circus - or dance, or clowning - can give.
Triptyque continues until Sun, Nov 19 at the Bluma Appel Theatre, 27 Front St E. canadianstage.com