VIP – Judith Jamison

4 Jun 2010 – 6:12 PM Comments

Dancer VIP: Judith Jamison – Alvin Ailey former Artistic Director

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A La Vie, A La Mort – Life is a Circus

Submitted by on 5 Mar 2011 – 1:07 AM Comments

Amid a pinkish-gray streaked sky, high above the Manhattan skyline and contorting within the deliciously opulent Spiegeltent, seven gravity-defying acrobats peacefully enter the realm of enchanted death. The 7 Fingers of the Hand [Les 7 Doigts de la Main] slither and twist, a circus so surreal, so sensual that their audience is fully engulfed in a bohemian fog; a smoky midday to midnight oasis opposite the bustling metropolitan streets outside. The five-year-old company that lives in a world of life and death is a glittering black medley conceived of alter egos through the glamorously sexy vixen, the stoic jock, the writhing psychopath, the dominating boss, the luscious flight attendant, the silent kitten and the elusive penis.

Faon Shirt by Brad Digital Bathing suit American Apparel Jeans Levi’s Pete Hoodie by Kilo

Faon: Shirt by Brad Digital Bathing suit American Apparel Jeans Levi’s – Pete: Hoodie by Kilo

“I’m the director,” jokes Sebastien Soldevila between puffs of smoke with a thick Parisian accent as he perches on the edge of a sage-colored armchair behind the tent. The on-stage ringleader of La Vie works in collaboration with the Montreal-based troupe’s seven-member group of performers, directors, choreographers, writers, and company managers. Aside from the creepy Freudian undercurrent, Soldevila is exactly like his character. His nonchalant demur and robust stature screams cirque nouveau, a new movement fusing dance and theater in a circus atmosphere.

“The audience isn’t used to seeing a stage like this,” he motions toward the back door of the circus-turned-lounge. “Many times they’ve just seen Cirque du Soleil. That is something very different from us. We try to develop a storyline so when we do our tricks it has meaning. We try not to do circus just to do circus.

“We wanted to approach the subject of purgatory with a real, dark sense of humor, but to put that against a backdrop of something as inherently joyous as the circus.” The intellectual Soldevila pauses to take another slow drag from his cigarette, “We wanted to start our own company so that we could take these kinds of creative risks.”

It was a rainy, sleepy-eyed noontime behind the small and intimate circus; a thick muggy afternoon under the base of the Brooklyn Bridge at the Seaport Village where The 7 Fingers performed every night except Tuesdays until September 30. Where between the clicks and flashes of the camera, buzzing of fans, and melancholy rhythms of Moby, a magnanimous event, real and human, unfolds. Suddenly, fellow Finger Samuel Tetreault burst through the doors and into sight.

Mimi: Thermal dress by Hooch Shoes by Steve Madden. Max: Thermal shirt Barking Irons Tomb Collection Jeans by APC Sneakers by Nike

Mimi: Thermal dress by Hooch Shoes by Steve Madden - Max: Thermal shirt Barking Irons Tomb Collection Jeans by APC Sneakers by Nike

He gestured toward a plush red booth inside and spoke with a vivacious animation. He was friendly and did not mirror his La Vie character, the too cool businessman in Armani. Tetreault was thoughtful and open. “I used to work for Cirque du Soleil,” he said as he accidentally knocked down a nearby water bottle and then five minutes later kicked the table. He didn’t skip a beat. “Even though I loved my time there, I wanted to be part of a more intimate kind of production, where the audience can really relate to the performers as human beings.”

A translucent draw on his character must secretly come from a childhood longing to join the Olympics (something of substantial power) that he allows to surface during his performance. His character has the air of a suave heartthrob. “He is a successful businessman, but when everything is broken down he’s exposed, he can’t even use his legs. How does that feel? How do you cope with that? “I wanted to show that process to the audience, and how behind everybody there is fear. It’s real.” Before he could elaborate, soft French whispers began to swarm around us.

Although she wasn’t physically there, the haunting echo of the elastic Isabelle filled the air. “Everybody at one point thinks they’re crazy,” begins Tetreault, although his words began to trail off, “‘What’s happening to me?’ you ask. Sometimes you freak out, with reason or not…”

Isabelle Chasse plays the crazy girl in La Vie and is also the primary mastermind behind the company’s name, The 7 Fingers [Les Sept Doigts de la Main] (a derived from a French saying about the unity of the five fingers of the hand, with a twist since the company counts seven performers).

Nimble is an understatement. Chasse proves what Tetreault was talking about; the outlet each performer releases on stage taps into a secret desire. She twists and turns in front of the public in a stylistic portrayal of the human soul. Chasse was fleeting, and in moments vanished.

Sebastien, founder of "Les 7 doigts de la main"

Sebastian: T Shirt by Anything Jacket vintage by Adidas Jeans by Earnest Sewn Hat dancer’s own Mimi: Gold Sneakers by Nike

Patrick Leonard, married to co-founding member Gypsy Snider, wasn’t there. His legacy, however, was. Leonard is the “elusive penis” from earlier, somehow managing to lose his pants twice in the show. “He’s a good crazy,” Tetreault laughs, “He’s just like his character; he wants to send a message to people to break out and not conform.”

Newest member, Emilie (Mimi) Bonnavaud, also lives next door to the Fingers’ occupied convent. She has a bright energy and glows with a sort of childish innocence. Cheeky Mimi finds hints of her character, the smoldering siren, withing herself. Countless times during the show her character will sprawl provocatively on top of a piano, or chair, or table. “I love the show because I get to play a very fun character,” Mimi flashes a huge smile, “She’s very slutty and very sexy. I mean I’m a sexy woman, but she’s over the top.”

Bonnavaud was tired of performing in Las Vegas’ Cirque du Soleil when she called her brother, Sebastian. That’s when she went out to Montreal to work with 7 Fingers.

Although not birth siblings, Soldevila adopted Bonnavaud when he was 19. “I’ve known her for 16 years,” says Soldevila, “She didn’t have parents so I adopted her.” The brother-sister duo dances a particular number that illustrates their bound beautifully; a pas de deux of acrobatics and contemporary dance, fused with a hint of latin flavor. Soldevila explains that this piece was choreographed by his wife, Shana Carroll, trapeze artist and Finger co-founder who plays the show’s pretty airline attendant.

There is a special closeness, a happiness and overall warm family within The 7 Fingers. Immediately you are welcomed into their world, as if among lifelong friends over blended margaritas. This tranquil sunlight begins to descend as the star lights blaze over the glossy water. The 7 fingers prepare for another magical evening of obscure shapes twisted in dangling chains and ropes upside down in the air above a platform, while dreamy French music from the award-winning DJ Pocket hums in the background.

Samuel on wheels - Life as a circus Samuel: Jacket by Reebock. Jeans by Nudie jeans, Sneakers by Reebock

Clear, profound and living. That is the uplifting message delivered by these dazzling artists in a way that tickles you, scratches an itch that you didn’t even know you had. They expose themselves voluntarily, psychologically naked to the world. Pete, rigger and backstage technician who also makes frequent cameos, relaxes moments before the long night ahead of him. “On a scale of one to ten how much do I like the show? 11.” “We wanted the create a show where the audience would leave and think, ‘Wow, let’s live before we’re dead,’” states Tetreault. “‘Let’s live intensely, let’s love, let’s be passionate about what we do!’” And in an instant La Vie comes to life…

Pete: Shirt Barking Irons Tombs Collection, Jacket Umbro by Kim Jones, Jeans by Diesel, Sneakers by Jordan - Samuel: Hoodie PRPS, Jeans Azzure custom by 22, Sneakers Umbro by Kim Jones - Max: Bubble Vest by Penfield, Jeans by APC, Sneakers by Nike

Written By Jeanette Prather | Photography By Jared Ryder
Stylist: Rose Garcia - Hair & Make Up Artist: Sasha Harford

Shot on location at South Street Seaport, Spiegelworld, New York City

First published in Movmnt Magazine Issue 5