While nine performers glided about in elaborate coordination, effortlessly darting back and forth to the table onstage while executing lifts, flips and other gymnastics, something less spectacular was happening — they were making banana bread. Amidst the feats of strength and flexibility on display in NYU’s Skirball Center for the Performing Arts sat the promise of food, which the audience sampled after the performance.
This was the essence of “Cuisine and Confessions,” a production that blended cooking, theater, dance and acrobatics. The result was a mix of entertainment and art like no other. Directors Shana Carroll and Sebastien Soldevila from the collective Les 7 Doigts (The 7 Fingers) pioneered a dynamic, refreshingly intimate show.
The scenes, inspired by the cast members’ memories, each illuminated food’s connection to family, love and identity. And while the performers baked the banana bread, a Ray Charles remix turned hip-hop then folksy with the addition of performer Matias Plaul’s harmonica. Nothing was off the table.
The show began with contemporary dance and cheerleader-style tosses. The stage glowed red after all the performers spoke in unison, “These are the ingredients. Welcome to our kitchen.”
Then the frantic construction of the perfect omelette began, accompanied by a pulsating Latin beat that had performer Pablo Pramparo wiggling his hips between juggling mixing bowls and, at one point, five whisks. The running joke was performer Mishannock Ferrero’s love for a selected audience member, for whom the dancers cooked the omelette and invited up on stage to eat it. Audience participation was central. Even before the show started, the cast told jokes, passed out treats and played catch with audience members using a piece of fruit, of course.
Yet what really reeled the audience in was each performer’s narrative, from Heloise Bourgeois’s pink celebration of sweets and Chinese pole routine to Gabriella Parigi’s telling of her Argentinian upbringing, in which she demonstrated her transformation from young gymnast to sultry, wine-sipping woman. Performer Anna Kachalova stunned as she contorted and flew through dance, and Anna Kichtchenko’s aerial silk routine left the audience breathless.
Despite the show’s youthful humor, the more somber segments left lasting impressions. Cast members Sidney Bateman and Melvin Diggs soared through square hoops scattered around a blue stage like a superhero duo as they recounted a life in St. Louis filled with waiting — to die young or end up in jail. There was a tenseness between them as they danced in time to the piano.
Towards the end, Plaul told the story of his father’s kidnapping and murder in a concentration camp while ascending a pole in silence and dropping nose-first within one inch of the ground the room filled with the warm scent of banana bread.
Though the cast members had very different stories, they all cherished community. Before the banana bread and pasta were served and the kids left to practice their cartwheels in the lobby, the audience helped the cast count down to the final beeping of the oven.
“Cuisines & Confessions” ran April 11 through 16 at NYU Skirball Center for the Performing Arts. You can learn more about Les 7 Doigts on their website.
Email Anna Levinson at [email protected]