Canadian troupe stages circus of the mind

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Entertainment,Music,Emily Cary

There are circuses with elephants, tigers, seals and prancing horses. Then there is Les 7 Doigts de la Main (Seven Fingers of the Hand). The circus and acrobatic troupe from Quebec arrives at George Mason University with "PSY" (pronounced "see"), a show that excels in acrobatics even as it probes the surreal underworld of the human mind.

Shana Carroll explained that the name refers to the seven founders of the company, of which she is one of two Americans. Another founder is French, while four are Canadians. Like her colleagues who also enjoyed careers with big circuses, she performed with Cirque du Soleil. At the founding of Les 7 Doigts de la Main in 2002, all seven became directors of the organization that now has more than 200 members involved in administration, performance and other aspects of production. "PSY" is one of the troupe's eight shows that regularly tour.

"This concept seemed like a natural step to us," she said. "We use circus as a language that can be compared to a musical with song and dance. The circus comes out of the story and the story is sprinkled around the acts. The basis of 'PSY' is psychology, and the circus acts are the symbolic path to emotion. The language of the circus can be surreal, as in paintings and dreams that delve into the subconscious.

"The role of 'PSY' is to stimulate the imagination. The audience relates to the characters. Scenes transform in front of their eyes and they discover meaning behind each act. For instance, the juggling act represents the white holes in one's memory. In the case of the teeter board, when an artist flies into the air, the audience is connected with him and wants him to come back safely.

If you go
Les 7 Doigts de la Main: 'PSY'
» Where: George Mason University Center for the Arts, 4400 University Drive, Fairfax
» When: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Saturday; pre-performance discussions by Sylvain Cornevaux, cultural director of the Alliance Francaise
» Info: $24 to $48; 888-945-2468; cfa.gmu.edu

"There are also some layers of understanding regarding the characters. One is trying to rid himself of an obsessive compulsive disorder, another has an addiction, and still another has a sleep disorder, but no matter the psychological problem, by the close of the show there is the sound of triumph and inherent joy in the beauty of quirkiness.

"The set of 'PSY' is a huge, two-story house that can be used either as a projection surface or to represent a clean slate. There is also a staircase that appears in different configurations. All our shows have musical accompaniment that is recorded and sometimes sung. We may hear a piece of music that inspires us to create an act, or we may create an act and then look for music to fit it. The costumes are realistic, almost noncostumes. Each artist has his own main character, but in the case of flashbacks in which he sees himself as someone in the past, there may be a costume change."

The company always has a number of ongoing projects in addition to its circus shows. The troupe appeared before Queen Elizabeth II in a Royal Variety Performance at Sadler's Wells Theatre in London. The troupe represented Quebec at the closing ceremonies of the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy. Four years later, it performed at award ceremonies during the Winter Olympics in Vancouver. Gypsy Snider, one of the troupe's seven founders, is preparing a Broadway-bound production of "Pippin" to open April 25.

"When we choose new members, we look for multidisciplinary skills," Carroll said. "They must be able to do far more than acrobatics and have a strong background in acting, contemporary dance and performance in general. We teach at the National Circus School in Montreal, so we watch the students develop from the outset and tend to know them well and how they will fit into our company.

" 'PSY' is suitable for all ages," Carroll said. "Children will be excited about the various acts, while adults will develop a deeper understanding of the story behind the acts. Both will relate to the comedy, interesting choreography and connections they make with the artists. Everyone in the audience will cheer the trapeze artist who finally gathers the courage to counteract fear and throw himself from a high place."

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Emily Cary

Special to The Washington Examiner
The Washington Examiner