Talk of circus spectacles in Montreal almost always centers on Cirque du Soleil, but a quick walk across the street from that troupe’s headquarters will bring you to another performance at La TOHU. More than just an acrobatic exhibition, Les 7 doigt de la main‘s (seven fingers of the hand) La Vie weaves the physical feats into a full performance that fuses familiar themes from French literature and comedy. Frankly, it’s almost as though Tohu is the intersection of Jean-Paul Sartre’s play No Exit, the famous anti-war film Le roi de coeur (King of Hearts) and the acrobatics of the well-known performers across the street.
Dark comedy pervades La Vie, which unlike its title (life), talks about everything that comes after. The cast comes face to face with the many sins they have enjoyed – or not – over a 90-minute performance that is performed in English or French, depending on the night you attend. Coping with insanity, sexual frustration and a devilish host committed fully to the discomfort of his “guests,” the performers mix dialogue with singing, dancing and the disturbingly integrated creations of a DJ whose mouth provides some of the soundtrack. Moments of comedic lightness only intensify the anxiety, as they mock the victims who are so obviously in various states of physical, mental or emotional agony.
But, it’s still really funny. Seriously. At times, you feel like you shouldn’t laugh, but you can’t help yourself.
If you’ve ever wondered what purgatory is like, La Vie has all the answers. It’s a flight – but any frequent traveler knows this already. Perhaps worse for the Francophones in the audience, it’s a flight with an English-speaking attendant whose pronunciation of the French language is very clearly that of an American who took three years of high school French from a teacher that never lived abroad. Yes, she gets the words right, in the manner of an honors student, but the purity is noticeably absent.
A French (of the “from France” variety) acrobat presides over the afterlife – at least this portion of it. Clad entirely in white, contrasting with the nature of his reign, he pushes each of his guests through several trials ostensibly related to how they lived. He is assisted by a bookish assistant (who also plays the flight attendant) who is clearly ready to burst with a lust she could never have satisfied while alive.
The biting wit throughout this performance does not overshadow the physical prowess of the performers. How could it? Even the most compelling of dialogues could never overshadow a scantily clad beauty entangled in chains several dozen feet above the stage. Jugglers always delight audiences, but when they are standing on the shoulders of others, this gives way to sheer astonishment. And, there’s nothing quite so unusual as a voluptuous young lady resting her head against the bottom of a loose noose, casually smoking a cigarette while showing no concern for the fact that the slightest slip would lead to several broken bones.
The company’s name becomes clear shortly into the show. It seems, sometimes, as though they must have seven fingers on each hand to endure (and even enjoy) the maneuvers they complete. There is no room for error in La Vie … the performance that is. In the real thing, la vie that we live daily, however, there is a bit more forgiveness, even if Les 7 doigt de la main would have you believe otherwise.
Whether you appreciate the acrobatic, love the intertwining of anguish and humor or simply want to see a girl in a straightjacket contort herself on a gurney, La Vie is an essential stop in Montreal.
Since there aren’t any clips of La Vie on YouTube yet, check out one of Les 7 doigt de la main’s other performances below.
Disclosure: Tourisme-Montreal picked up the tab for this trip, but my views are my own.