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Les 7 Doigts (The 7 Fingers) Delight All Ages in Portland

Once in a while you see a performance that is everything: Beautiful, funny, developed but loose, open, sad. Montreal’s 7 Fingers Company (Les 7 Doigts De La Main) is like that. Their latest, Cuisine and Confessions, presented by White Bird dance at Portland’s Newmark Theatre last weekend, is a revelation.

Let’s start at the very beginning: Circus arts tend to make me grumpy.

I know, I know: I should love it, everyone loves it! Silks, tumbling, climbing, wall-walking, everyone enjoys it and I’m a terrible person for taking issue.

But, I mean, the tricks. What’s my beef? I’ll tell you: I get tired of showmanship for its own sake. I grow weary of acts divined not by creativity, not by reality, but seemingly by fantasy, the kind of elliptical, formless noodling that relies on the next death-defying spectacle, the roar of the crowd, the bread and circuses of distraction. Le sigh.

Typically, these shows sit on old tropes about gender, as women get hurled around by bigger, stronger men, and contort like origami, til we all ooh and ahh.

Where’s the theme and variation? Where’s the shape, the form? Where’s the arc, the narrative depth? Where’s the envelope we’re pushing? And are we pushing it enough?

Usually, circus arts shows leave me with that feeling like I’ve eaten a bunch of popcorn for dinner. I’m full, but I’m not satisfied.

But hold the phone: 7 Fingers has a new idea.

I adore White Bird. There, I said it.

Is anyone doing anything more for dance in Oregon? Nope. Producers Walter Jaffe and Paul King are worth their weight in gold. They know how to pick ‘em, and how lucky are we that they keep bringing this stuff to our leafy part of the world.

It would be a mistake to provide a synopsis of Seven Finger’s Cuisine and Confessions. I mean, don’t you hate that, when a reviewer gives away all the good parts? Who wants spoilers? NO ONE wants spoilers.

But this show has so many good parts.

Helpful hint: Get there early. The pre-show’s wonderful.

But when the show itself begins, here’s the powerful alchemic reaction, the artistic crucible that burns a bright new substance: Imagine the Icarian flying, the hand-to-hand work, the acro-dance, the floor work, tumbling, climbing, the juggling and music and the Chinese pole, and now — wait for it — combine all that with evocative, charming, heartfelt memoir theater.

I’ve never seen anything like Cuisine and Confessions, in all my years in the theater, all around the world.

Hats off to directors Shana Carroll and Sébastien Soldevila, and the entire cast and crew. From the onstage kitchen (yup!), to the powerful movement, music and words, the piece has the power to transform, like the banana bread they bake while the performance hums along.

Shows like this make you really damned proud to be a human.