With the wide spectrum of shows available throughout Southern California and the rest of the country at any given time of year, it’s a rarity that one will come along and joyously surprise. Awe-strikingly sweet in its refreshing uniqueness, “Cuisine & Confessions” by Les 7 Doigts De La Main (or, The 7 Fingers) finished its wildly successful three-day run at The Broad Stage in Santa Monica, Calif., on February 18th. But throughout its short stay in the region, and every tour stop, this smorgasbord of a show manages to beautifully trace the sheer love of food with the tenderness, happiness, creativity, and even the sadness of life — told in autobiographical form by its culinary and acrobatically inclined performers.
The first impression is undoubtedly the eye-catching set (by Ana Cappelluto), which is attention-grabbing in the manner it warmly invites the observer’s fixation. The set is comprised of a long, upright contemporary-minimalistic kitchen design with a seemingly pinewood configuration, cubic shelves layered on top of one another, an overhanging wood fixture, and a towering silver pole in the corner of the stage.
Contributing to the intimate feel of the show – which is wonderfully directed, written, and choreographed by Shana Caroll and Sébastien Soldevila — is the fact that the performers engage the audience before the festivities get underway. This interactivity begins by playing amusing catch-and-throw (using lemons and grapes) with audience members before the show, then later during it when select individuals become good-sported actors, and finally when the entire crowd is asked to set a baking timer (on their phones) for the banana bread they’ll be served at the end.
The production is astounding in its makeup, as a variety stage show with enough sensory excitement to satiate the hungriest eyes. And yet, there is an order to the madness that starts with the nine performers providing soul-bearing testimonials about their relationship to food, as the others are being flipped, tossed, turned, and torqued with the utmost precision and organization. It is immediately understood that this is not just a food-loving acrobatic team, as they are a family, and this is as much their story as it is a stage exhibition.
There are varying segments throughout the show that intersperse the whimsy and seriousness of food with personal anecdotes about the athletically expressionistic performers, as each one has his or her moment to shine within the collectiveness of their poignant message. For instance, a pointed back-and-forth about what the perfect omelette is (onions, peppers, and love), yields an incredible juggling act by Argentina-native Pablo Pramparo, who chucks and grabs a series of egg-beaters from the air with a mouth-dropping sleight of hand. Pramparo, as we would later understand, is a possibly misunderstood man, whose words are stymied by the Spanish-to-English language barrier.
Pramparo is joined by two fellow Argentinians, the first of whom is Gabriela Parigi, a fiercely strong woman and mother of a newborn baby. Parigi moreover exhibits an empowering presence on stage, as well as a flair for comedy. The second is Matias Plaul, who has the most harrowing life story, dating back to when his revolutionary Italian father was forever taken away from him and his mother by the Argentinian army when Plaul was only 8 months old. This prompts Plaul to ask somberly what his dad’s last meal might have been (he hopes it was pasta) as he purges his intense emotions by performing perilous feats using the pole, culminating in him free-falling, as a bungee jumper would, from the top, only stopping himself and his head from plunging through the floor at the very last second.
Similarly adept with the pole is Héloïse Bourgeois of Paris, France, who rightly believes that fruit is no substitute for actual dessert. Using the pole, she dynamically demonstrates her uncanny core strength and body control — a trait that also manifests when she is regularly launched into the air and is able to, at one point, gracefully grab onto the overhanging wooden fixture as if it were a handlebar.
Another memorable highlight involves a two-man interplay, featuring Melvin Diggs, who looks like an NBA small forward and can jump like he’s on stilts, and Sidney Iking Bateman, a whirling dervish of a man who relentlessly overcomes one feat after another. With all eyes on the two St. Louis natives, their pre-recorded voices can be overhead on the speakers – detailing Diggs’ lack of a father figure and Bateman’s childhood memory of enjoying french fries and reading books at Rally’s Hamburgers – as they somersault and backflip through an array of stacked square-wooden hoops, each one more daunting than the next.
Bateman would later be individually spotlighted in a Chinese yo-yo juggling act. Using only a string to spin a wheel-like piece that resembles a hockey puck, Bateman is able to lasso it around his arms and legs, all the while his body tilts and revolves in the air, defying gravity.
Furthermore, an amazingly dramatic act between Mishannock Ferrero, a Rhode-Island native who strongly desires love and the bond of family, and Anna Kachalova of Moscow, Russia, highlights the latter’s ability to balance upside-down, using only Ferrero’s hands, or be catapulted in mid-air only to be caught by Ferrero’s knees and hands. This is called “Icarian” flying, which, during the last moments of the show, summons the participation of the entire cast.
The poetry between Ferrero and Kachalova is matched by Anna Kichtchenko, also from Moscow, who flourishes during an aerial silk performance where she manipulates the drapery around her body, as she swings and corkscrews herself with not even the slightest margin for error. As the show comes to a wonderful conclusion, Kichtchenko, as well as Kachalova, Parigi, and Bourgeois combine one of the most important food ingredients (flour) with floor acrobatics in what is a bedazzling artistic display of ingenuity and sensuality.
Undoubtedly, “Cuisine & Confessions” is one of the most special shows seen in a long time, for its international and immensely skilled performers not only have a heart-to-heart with the audience about food, but about their own backgrounds, each one distinct, but bound by the same burning desire – to love and be loved. Inclusive of this is the notion — and running theme throughout the 90-minute spectacle — that perhaps there is no greater act of love than serving another human-being a deliciously fulfilling meal.
For more information about future shows at The Broad Stage in Santa Monica, please visit thebroadstage.com
For more information about upcoming tour stops of 7 Fingers’ “Cuisine & Confessions,” visit 7fingers.com/shows/creations/cuisine-confessions