How nice of the members of les 7 doigts de la main to pursue the impossible for us in the way that they do. They’re practically sheepish about it. They do something frankly amazing—run up a pole, jump through a stack of six hoops, somersault into each other’s arms—then walk to the front of the stage and, rather than bow, merely shrug and stare when receiving our rapturous applause.
What sets 7 doigts apart from us mere mortals, besides their physical dexterity, is their conceptual sense, their total aesthetic. Where Barnum & Bailey acrobats opt for sequins and spangles and shouts of “Hey!,” and where Cirque du Soleil aims for the fantastical and mythological, 7 doigts keeps it real. They introduce themselves with their real names, ages, weights, birthplaces and self-descriptions. (Funny to hear that these titans of intricate acrobatic routines would declare themselves “lazy” or “clumsy”). They do their routines on a stripped down stage that avoids all the flash and pomp we associate with circuses. There’s a vague dramatic set-up in the program about this being some post-apocalyptic wasteland on which they struggle to survive and get along. But really, they just do what they do, which is amaze and astound. No extra set dressing or gift wrapping required.
Even the conventional, old-fashioned aspects of Traces—7 doigt’s best-known show, finally coming to the Arts & Ideas after this internationally renowned troupe wowed the festival with a more recent revue, Sequence 8, last year—are updated and revised to the company’s post-modern circus criteria. They do a soft-shoe shuffle to the song “Paper Moon”—on skateboards. They fight over who gets to play the piano—an instrument seemingly crafted out of driftwood. They play basketball, but in a manner the Harlem Globetrotters have never attempted, with one member running up a pole and becoming the hoop.
On Friday night, the six company members (“7” is the magic number for the show, but only in that it allows one or two members to be out at a time with injuries) showed how none of them were one-trick ponies. There is none of the old circussy build-ups for an artist and their signature routine. All of them can do anything at any given time. They can all sometimes do similar things, things that I could never do outside my wildest dreams.
There is a tradition proudly being upheld here. It’s not the old flashy Barnum circus tradition with its ringmasterly pronouncements and colorful chaos. This one is dark and quiet and doesn’t scream its undeniable importance. The tradition that 7 Doigts de la Main upholds is one begun by the Arts & Ideas festival in its earliest years, over a decade and a half ago. We’ve had Cirque Baroque, Cirque Eloise and numerous other cirques over the years show us how this fine modern art has grown and evolved, and how our own sense of amazement has changed.
Heading into Arts & Ideas’ final weekend, some of the most popular and reliable aspects of the festival are still around to be enjoyed. There’s a final big concert on New Haven Green Saturday at 7 p.m. with La Santa Cecilia and Nation Beat. There’s a bike tour, Saturday at 2 p.m., of public artworks around the city. There are the final performances of Adele Myers & Dancers’ Einstein’s Happiest Thought, les 7 doigts de la Main’s Traces and David Greig’s engrossing drama The Events. There’s even a whole new event opening: the waterbombing clown duo Acrobuffos performing for free on the Green at 1:15 and 5 p.m. Friday and at noon, 2:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. Saturday.
Actual people enlivening New Haven with vital public energy is the hallmark of the festival, which provides a much-needed burst of economic stimulus in the stagnancy of early summertime. But movies have neatly bookended this year’s festival, offering an opportunity to be inside in a quiet place before (and now after) all that cavorting has taken place. An Alan Berliner Film Festival, an A&I event co-sponsored by Yale, started the night before the festival officially began. And now a bunch of local documentarians are capping off A&I 2014 with a cinematic aperitif on Sunday, the day after the fest officially closes.
NHdocs is a one-day film festival comprising four documentaries made by New Haven-area filmmakers. The documentarians, which include Gorman Bechard (Every Everything: The Music, Life and Times of Grant Hart), Lisa Molomot (The Hill), Jacob Bricca (Tatanka) and Yale Summer Film Institute director Charles Musser (Errol Morris: A Lightning Sketch) met up recently at an indie film festival in Montana and realized that they ought to be screening their works in their own hometown.
NHdocs starts at 1 p.m. in the Whitney Humanities Center, 53 Wall St. The Hill, about eminent domain and other neighborhood struggles in New Haven, screens at 1 p.m. (This film has had many screenings around town, and was written about previously in the New Haven Independent here.) A Lightning Sketch, a documentary about a famed documentarian, screens at 2:30 p.m. Tatanka, a personal sketch of the filmmaker’s father, is at 4 p.m. The festival ends with a 7 p.m. screening of Every Everything, about the drummer and vocalist for the legendary post-punk band Husker Dü.
Each film in the NHDocs series gets a post-screeening discussion. Admission is free. A nice wind-down to an exhaustive fortnight of New Haven festivities.