La Vie

Pacific Blue Festival Club, Wellington

23/02/2008 - 16/03/2008

New Zealand International Arts Festival

Production Details

Take a walk on the wild side with La Vie from Les 7 Doigts de la Main, whose incredible performers have lit up stages with the most prestigious circuses and cabarets of the world.

Take care as you are drawn into a world of unfulfilled fantasies and unrequited passions played out recklessly in the intimate confines of the Pacific Blue Festival Club tent. A seductive mix of life-threatening aerial acrobatics, contortionism, juggling, wild characters and wicked music, La Vie takes circus to a new dimension – somewhere between heaven and hell.


Originally produced by Spiegelworld and 7D 

2 hrs, incl. interval

Wonderful acts

Review by Lynn Freeman 06th Mar 2008

This is part-cabaret, part-burlesque, part circus and being designed for the late night audience, very naughty in places. 

Billed as a ‘the-atro-batic delight’, the seven Montreal-based Les 7 Doigts de la Main circus artists get to display some of the talents they’ve trained long and hard to perfect, close up to their audience.  In this day and age it’s pretty hard to shock people and even the nudity and the nail up the nose is amusing more than anything. 

The premise is that we’re joining them in limbo, though more towards hell than heaven, and our and the performers’ past sins are revealed.  It’s well executed, the MC is charmingly freakish, and the circus acts themselves are wonderful.  If you prefer your circus not adults-only though, head to their more family oriented Festival show, Traces.


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Wildly enjoyable

Review by Brannavan Gnanalingam 29th Feb 2008

It’s hard to describe this one – was it music, theatre, acrobatics, physical comedy, dance? Hell, it was a bit of everything, an exuberant, carnivalesque, grotesque bonanza. It was one giant variety show that had the audience whooping like an orphanage, and departing with silly grins plastered on their faces. If you were going to go, and judging by the amount of the fun the audiences had (i.e. each night may sell-out quickly), I’d advise going drunk. It’ll quadruple the fun.

Sure, if you thought too seriously about it, parts of it don’t really work. The show’s narrative involved a flight to Purgatory on La Vie Airlines (“La Mort” didn’t quite attract the customers). It’s the Flight to Hell that “never quite makes it”. However, the narrative basically disappeared in the second half, but I’m not sure if many people in the audience cared too much, as it basically got in the way of the thrills anyway.

The show’s emcee, a double-entendre spouting, suave, French rugby-boasting, Auckland basher (he’d done his homework for his Wellington audience) was the pillar of the narrative, and was the central focus of the show. His interactions with a particular acrobat were the highlight, including the it-had-to-be-seen-to-be-believed diablo routine. Diablos (a former Filipino weapon reputedly) were huge at my intermediate school, so I know how difficult it is to even get them moving, let alone keep them going while doing back-flips. A lot of the other acrobatic stuff drew audible gasps from the audience for the sheer skill involved.

Music played an important role throughout from Patsy Cline’s ‘Crazy’ (involving a mental institution patient) to Tom Waits to The Gotan Project (involving a ménage à quatre tango). There was also a rather hilarious a cappella song dedicated to sexual frustration. There were an enormous amount of randiness on show, and even audience members got in on the act when forced on stage.

The troupe used the Pacific Blue Festival Club’s space well too, even though it didn’t really maintain fidelity to the plane’s ostensible setting. Everyone was seated around the stage, and it had the feel of a circus. It probably worked well because of the show’s variety show feel, and allowed the best view of some of the incredible acrobatics on show. I daresay it was probably done for safety reasons too. The performers would occasionally prance around behind the audience too, maintaining a nice chaotic feel.

La Vie was just a wildly enjoyable show, that doesn’t take itself too seriously. The audience lapped up the amazing stunts and performances, the cheap laughs, the silly moments and sheer spectacle. It’s a sure-fire crowd-pleaser.

Originally published in The Lumière Reader.


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Darkly exquisite, truly astounding

Review by John Smythe 25th Feb 2008

If this is Purgatory or Hell or the existential state of Nothingness, book me in – as long as I can just watch and don’t have to do what these French Canadian acrobatic contortionists do. Mind you, we are all dead – that’s the premise from the opening roll call – so where’s the harm in taking the odd mortal risk? And odd their activities certainly are.

La Vie has the edgy, whimsical context and dramatic dimensions I’d like to think our local circus and burlesque performers will strive for (e.g. the recently seen Step Up Darlings troupe). Thus Samuel Tétreault, with astonishing one-hand-balancing and other acrobatic skills, arrives as the pilot of a crashed aeroplane, and his wheelchair and a flashing red beacon become the frame he performs on.

Now we are all aboard a La Vie Airlines flight: "Sins will move about the cabin …" Our French MC, Sébastien Soldevila – wittily adept at audience interaction – provokes and gloats with cracks about blowing up our "little boat", Mururoa and the Rugby World Cup: an effective way of securing our attention.

Later, Patrick Léonard – whose performing persona is somewhat bewildered and put-upon -uses a passable bottle of NZ wine in one of his stunning routines, which include contortionism, acrobatics, and duo diabolo-spinning and body-balancing acts with Soldevila that suddenly reveal our MC is much more than a suave and acerbic host.

Incidentally I’m flying blind here without an actual programme, relying instead on the 7 Doigts website and biog notes from the Festival office, so apologies if I make mistakes with names …

I take it Marjorie Nantel plays the suicidal madwoman who contorts herself impossibly on a hospital bed in a strait jacket. And Krin Maren Haglund is out air hostess, who also sings haunting songs – and a risqué one" ‘Everybody’s fucking but me …" – before, suddenly stripped to her lacy lingerie, she proves adroit on the trapeze swing. Then the swing becomes a security pass-through frame for a comic routine that nails yet another skill to Léonard’s mast.

After interval (it’s almost two hours, this mesmerising show) there is more idiosyncratic comedy from DJ Pocket, introduced as Mr Foukette, who samples and mixes a musical piece through plasticine and turning his turntable into a potter’s wheel, rising – with the help of the sultry Emilie (Mimi) Bonnavaud – to a gloriously phallacious climax.

Faon Shane, whose character died in a restaurant choking on coq au vin ("She loves coq") works with aerial chains in concert with Tétreault and later this couple entrances us with a tango routine – invaded by Bonnavaud, who takes it to new dimensions. Which do we prefer: sexiness or sensuality?

Bonnavaud and her partner Soldevila save their best till last: a spectacularly physical pas-de-deux that fully embodies mutual trust and truly defies the death that apparently is no longer an issue – except we know it is.
Set in the round, in the Festival Club, with bar facilities close to hand, and playing late night (plus 8pm on Sundays) throughout the festival, La Vie is darkly exquisite, truly astounding festival fare.


Judith Dale March 8th, 2008

Is there anyone else who didn't find this “the perfect arts festival show”? I wanted to have my grych earlier and didn't, so now I must work out for myself what went wrong. Simon Sweetman in the DomPost, just quoted, awards it “Best of the Fest”; reviewers in both The Lumière Reader and Capital Times admire it; and “Darkly exquisite, truly astounding festival fare” says our John. Others of my friends loved it too. For a start, it's not because I don't like this sort of bonanza ― I do ― but because I do: I loved the circus shows of previous festivals. I adore aerialists, acrobats, trapeze artists and carnivalesque big tops, or the fantastic burlesquerie, juggling and gymnastics of the French circus-school tradition previously seen at the St James. I find them entrancing. I love their 'storylines' of whimsy and charm. By exacting our willing suspension of disbelief, these vestigial narratives make theatre magic. Everyone goes home with a smile that doesn't wear off. Comparatively, then, “La Vie” disappointed me. In the smaller Pacific Blue tent something different is required of course, perhaps more cabaret-like. The festival programme describes the show as “good old naughty and bawdy fun” and “contains adult themes” ― perhaps I had been warned? For this slice of 'la vie' we're in the after-life, on an obscure airline's flight to nowhere; or it's the endless aftermath of a fatal plane crash (think Sartre's “No Exit” aka “In Camera”). The scenario is clever enough, but it doesn't go anywhere beyond macho patter. I don't appreciate bare humour, weak misogyny, girly posturing and mild homophobia. It's tedious. Even feminists know we all “must have gsoh” and yes, I understand satire, but I found this tired, tawdry and banal. But then ― and I can't, or won't, forgive this ― then there's the scenario of an anguished young woman going mad, to the words of of Patsy Cline's “Crazy”, institutionalised in a strait-jacket and desperate to get away even by suicide. Contortionists often do this sort of thing, to show they can get themselves out ― but the character can't. Psychiatric ill-health is not funny, not material for joking. Of course I know the appeal of a show like this isn't meant to lie in its social ideas but in its exploits. These performers are amazing, and thereby we are entertained. “La Vie” didn't ever need much by way of a storyline, but here the narrative and conceptual ― as opposed to performative ― material is at best slick and at worst offensive. As one reviewer said, if admiringly “La Vie” is “just a wildly enjoyable show, that doesn't take itself too seriously. The audience lapped up the amazing stunts and performances, the cheap laughs....” Yeah, right ― and so did the reviewers.

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The Perfect Festival Show

Review by Simon Sweetman 25th Feb 2008

If you have saved your pennies and are still deciding the one show at the arts festival to take a punt on – then look no further; this is the one.

This late-night, vaguely adult-themed mix of music, theatre, dance and acrobatics has all the excitement of a circus, the intrigue and bawdy humour of a cabaret-styled multimedia performance and the immediacy of intimate theatre. [More]


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