It’s an unusual playbill that includes a recipe for the banana bread that will be baked onstage during a performance. But that’s exactly what’s in store for the audience at “Cuisine & Confessions,” a show that incorporates circus arts, music, cooking and spoken words. The cast of nine comes from the Montreal-based circus troupe Les 7 Doights de la Main, or The 7 Fingers. Throughout the 90-minute show the troupe dazzles with an array of acrobatic, aerial and choreographic moves that take place in a spacious, gourmand kitchen at the Cutler Majestic Theatre.
“Cuisine & Confessions” is the brainchild of Shana Carroll and her husband, Sébastien Soldevila, who also directs the show. In many ways the performance reflects the circus business in transition. As animal acts fall by the wayside because of concerns about animal welfare, circus performers are pairing storytelling with impressive superhuman feats.
Carroll says the concept for the show began two years ago. “We started with the cast,” she told JewishBoston. “We wanted a particular style and a mix of skills. But the theme grew out of my husband’s passion for food and cooking. He learned to cook alongside his Spanish immigrant grandmother in France, and it was a huge part of his heritage. So we picked a subject close to our hearts at the moment.”
That subject is played out on a set that has a working oven, a towering display of stocked shelves and a breakfast island. The stunts are played out on the island, a rolling librarian’s ladder, an array of wooden frames and a Chinese pole. The theme of the evening is immediately introduced by individual cast members from various countries telling their food memories as others do improvisational dances, somersaults, backflips and cartwheels in the background.
One cast member from Finland proclaims that her circus family “tasted of vodka and cotton candy.” Another from Russia recalls memories of her grandmother’s borscht with a complicated contortion and aerial twirling act involving silk scarves that bring to mind a checkered tablecloth. There are further recollections of macaroons, blueberry muffins and childhood memories that “taste like popcorn.”
There’s also a playful interactive component that runs throughout the show. An audience member is wooed onstage with song and an omelet of “eggs, peppers, onions and love.” The funny bit is followed by a juggling act with large eggbeaters. There’s also an ongoing collaboration between the audience and cast members. The audience is asked to take out mobile phones to set a timer for 36 minutes—the exact time it takes to make the banana bread that will be served after the performance.
The most affecting vignette is a soliloquy from an Argentinian man, who last saw his father when he was 8 months old. His father, a political activist, was “disappeared” in 1977 by the ruling military junta. While telling his father’s story, he seemingly defies gravity on the Chinese pole as he lithely climbs and twirls, and even stands on it horizontally. He ruminates about his father’s incarceration in a “concentration camp” and speculates about the man’s last meal.
As Carroll points out, the show is very much a depiction of the adage that “life happens in the kitchen. We go through our lives marked by food memories and recipes. It’s part of our heritage, our culture and our identity.” Carroll’s own food memories involve her grandmother’s chicken soup and the foods she encountered at her family’s Passover seder. She recalls the time when she was living in Paris, celebrating Passover on her own for the first time, and she needed to make her grandmother’s soup as a touchstone of home.
Carroll got her start in the circus in her hometown of San Francisco. “I had a background in theater and fell in love with the circus at 18,” she says. She taught herself the trapeze for a year and eventually went on to pursue it intensively at the National Circus School in Montreal.
The 7 Fingers, with its dual emphasis on theater and circus skills, is an ideal artistic home for Carroll. And “Cuisine & Confessions” tugs at various strands of her life. The ensemble cast is reminiscent of Carroll’s potluck wedding dinner, in which relatives made food that represented their various ethnicities. The performance at the Cutler Majestic Theatre showcases those autobiographical elements, and, as Carroll notes, “food and memoir combine to make it a very personal story for the audience too.”