“PSY,” the newest and largest production from the Montreal-based circus troupe Les 7 doigts de la main (seven fingers of the hand), will spring into its debut at the Irvine Barclay Theatre for four performances only, starting May 10.
Most known for their international hit Traces, 7 Fingers’ fourth creation, “PSY,” was conjured up in 2010. “PSY” explores the surreal underworld of the human psyche, while merging acrobatics of the body, mind and soul.
Founded in Montreal in 2002, 7 Fingers’ initial goal was to bring circus to a human scale. Nearly a decade has passed and they have managed to climb the international circuit, landing a debut at the Barclay.
“PSY’s” novel concept alone was enough to draw in Irvine Barclay President Doug Rankin, who has had his finger on the circus’s pulse for years. Since the early 1990s, the Barclay has consistently incorporated circus performances in their seasons.
“It’s more than just a collection of great circus skills,” Rankin said in a phone interview. “The way this theatre company weaves things together into a story during an hour and a half production is very engaging, very enthralling.”
Each project is custom-made, approached with the same hands-on creativity and human intimacy. However, 7 Fingers’ trademark is their multi-disciplinary approach to the modern circus — often using group tableaus with a multi-talented cast that goes beyond their specialty.
“Les 7 doigts de la main” is a twist on a French idiom (“the five fingers of the hand”) used to describe distinct parts united tightly, moving in coordination toward one common goal.
Every finger represents each of the company’s founding artistic directors (Isabelle Chassé, Shana Carroll, Patrick Léonard, Faon Shane, Gypsy Snider, Sebastian Soldevila et Samuel Tétreault) who, by combining their distinct talents and experiences, work toward their common artistic goals.
Looking back at three past productions, a trend became evident — the circus acts served as an expression of an emotional or psychological state, while projecting an inner-story. So, “PSY” director, choreographer, and writer Shanna Carol simply took the next natural step and expanded on the tendency. But not before consulting her fellow “fingers,” of course.
“The language in circus is really rich in symbols and metaphors and a little bit surreal,” Carol said. “It’s inspired painters and directors over the centuries to use circus as a metaphor for very surreal, dream-like images. And of course, the language of the subconscious is really symbol-based and surreal image-based.”
Carol sought to match the language of circus with these surreal images. While exploring the murkiness of the subconscious, the characters travel through a multitude of landscapes. Starting off in a psychiatrist’s office, the production jumps from group therapy to flashbacks, as patients desperately try to recapture memories.
“It [“PSY”] is all about psychology and the psyche and so, we have an obsessive compulsive, an agoraphobic,” Carol said. “We used different aspects of the performers’ personalities that kind of gave off the different energies of these people. But we don’t base it on them, we just tried to find something that corresponded with the way they moved or the number.”
“For instance, it’s the trapeze artist who’s the agoraphobic. She’s really scared to go into this open space and they [the other characters] encourage her to get on the trapeze to overcome her fears.”
In addition to trapeze, the production features German wheel, teeterboard, Chinese pole, hand balancing, aerial rope, dance, hand- to-hand partner acrobatics, an acrobatic number with a staircase, as well as solo and group juggling with all 11 cast members.
In “PSY, " these forms of acrobatics function as metaphors for psychological disorders, such as insomnia, addiction, amnesia, paranoia, obsessive compulsive disorder, and hypochondria. However, the production finds the humor, beauty, and commonality of these various neuroses, by turning struggles into triumph.
“I would say we in the circus have all witnessed, to a certain extent, how circus can be truly therapeutic,” Carol said. “There is something about when you overcome a fear, when you have to push yourself to do something that is dangerous, or risk-taking in some way. And then you realize that it actually kind of transfers over to some other corner of your life where then you feel more courageous and stronger to confront other fears.”
If You GoWhat: “PSY” by Les 7 doigts de la main
Where: Irvine Barclay Theatre, 4242 Campus Drive, Irvine
When: May 10 through 13
More information: For tickets and show times, call (949) 854-4646 ext. 1, or visit https://www.thebarclay.org.