Cirque de Street Clothes

During their Vegas stop, a human circus showed the power of plain

Imagine Cirque du Soleil stripped down to its core, void of elaborate costumes, multimillion-dollar stages and special effects. Then take its acrobatic elements and set them to contemporary music such as hip-hop and dubstep. Bundle this up with a storyline that explores mental illness. This is PSY: Mind-Blowing Circus by Montreal-based theatrical group Les 7 Doigts de la Main (the seven fingers of the hand). The 10-year-old troupe made its Las Vegas debut on May 15-16 at The Smith Center for the Performing Arts. The crowd was a who’s who of the local entertainment scene, including concert promoters, Cirque du Soleil performers, a few JabbaWockeeZ and members of the Las Vegas Contemporary Dance Theater.

PSY is, as the title suggests, a topsy-turvy ride through the human psyche—using issues such as paranoia, hypochondria and addiction as plot points for feats such as juggling, the Chinese pole, German wheel, aerial rope and teeter board. Written and directed by frequent Cirque du Soleil contributor Shana Carroll, the two-hour show is set in a psychiatrist’s office and the interior mindscapes of its 11-person cast. The characters wear street clothes, and the boxy sets are ingeniously simple, changing shapes like giant Ikea furniture.

Without the distraction of elaborate makeup, intricate costumes or New Age stories about caterpillars turning into butterflies, the focus stays on the performance itself. From the pathos-filled opening act, featuring a patient acting out his neuroses on a trapeze for his psychiatrist, the action unfolds in leaps and bounds with emphasis placed upon bodies in motion. The circus acts serve as metaphors for the character’s psychological disorders, like when a patient’s memory of a childhood birthday party comes to life, animated with a knife-throwing party guest and creepy clown.

The most spectacular and engaging moment came after the intermission when Catherine Girard played a wandering insomniac who takes to the pole, pillow in hand. Along with partner Jean-Philippe Cuerrier, the duo performed an intertwined and sensually playful acrobatic symphony that defies gravity. Also most notable is the closing act, executed by Olga Kosova as a woman with anger-management issues, who performs an aerial rope act with no visible safety devices. Explosive hip-hop music set the tone.

Judging by the crowd’s overwhelmingly positive reaction, there could be a permanent home for Les 7 Doigts de la Main in Las Vegas, assuming that tourists are ready to see their circus performed in street clothes. Outside of an aggressive touring schedule, Traces—one of their eight shows—performs nightly at the Union Square Theatre in New York City.

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