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Thursday, September 19, 2019
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Joy, Pain, and Banana Bread in Multisensory Circus

It was the genuineness and humanity of the performers that made Shana Carroll first fall in love with the circus. She had been working in the box office of a San Francisco troupe and would watch the artists train, mastering their own bodies and working over and over again to make them do what looked impossible.

“These were real people,” said Carroll, who would become an accomplished trapeze artist herself before founding Les 7 Doigts De La Main (The Seven Fingers) with six friends. “For me, I always wanted to go back to that and have the audience experience the feeling that they could know this person.”

Audiences for Cuisine & Confessions—Les 7 Doigts’ international hit making its U.S. premiere July 12–August 7 when ArtsEmerson brings it to the Cutler Majestic Theatre—will get to know performers and their stories intimately, through movement, through narration, and through their recipes. It’s the fourth production by the Quebecois circus troupe to come to ArtsEmerson.

“We are thrilled to be the home for The 7 Fingers’ American premiere of Cuisine & Confessions,” ArtsEmerson Co-Artistic Director Polly Carl said in a statement. “Our Boston audiences have loved their unique, modern blend of circus, and we’re excited to have four weeks with them this summer.”

The idea, Carroll said, is to use food to explore identity and heritage, “trying to track down our past through food.” Each artist tells their personal story through the prism of a meal or a dish (shared with the audience at times), while also performing.

Melvin Diggs grew up with a bunch of brothers and sisters, who would spend each Sunday with their respective fathers. But Diggs didn’t know his father, so he’d spend every Sunday with his mom, who would always make them a big omelet. Diggs recounts his bittersweet feelings about those Sunday dinners, all while performing dazzling choreography and demonstrating how to make the perfect omelet.

Matias Plaul was a baby during the Argentine Revolution when his father was kidnapped, tortured, and taken to an internment camp. He talks about his father’s last meal before being executed.

But it would be wrong to assume that the show is relentlessly sad or grim—even when describing a last supper, Carroll said. The art, like food, can transcend the darkness.

“There’s inherently more joy in circus [than in dance],” said Carroll. “Even in this show, we have some deeper, darker themes, and that joy comes through. I find it…interesting to combine that [joy] with a darker edge sometimes, because then it brings a fuller life experience, as life is complex.”

Carroll said in creating Cuisine & Confessions, she was inspired by storytelling like that found in podcasts and radio shows such as This American Life, but she said the performers weren’t selected exclusively for their stories, or for their circus skills.

“We really just choose artists…we really want to work with,” Carroll said. “We definitely choose people who are multitalented.”

She said if you select circus performers for their “essence,” and you’re able to tap into that essence the way Cuisine & Confessions does, they can be very good actors.

Carroll said after 20 years as a trapeze artist, she’s started doing more ground work—acrobatics and “pas de deux stuff.”

“I still love doing aerial and stuff, but I find it less stimulating because it’s such known territory for me,” she said.

It’s that “genuine love to just do the tricks”—not a drive to be rich or famous—that makes the circus so engaging, for artist and audience alike, Carroll said.

“A juggler will train for five hours to see if he can go from juggling six clubs to seven clubs, and just get a thrill from that. The people who become acrobats have this genuine thrill in pushing the envelope and doing stuff other people don’t do,” she said. “There’s an adrenaline rush when you learn a new trick.”

Emerson faculty, staff, and students are eligible for free rush tickets to the July 12 and 13 shows. Anyone with an Emerson ID can reserve a complimentary ticket at the Cutler Majestic box office starting two hours prior to show time. In addition, Emerson ID holders are eligible for discounts ($10 per student for select zones; 30 percent off for faculty, staff, and students for all seats) for the entire run.

For show times, and to purchase tickets for Cuisine & Confessions, visit artsemerson.org.