What did your Mom teach you about cooking when you were a kid?
To make the perfect omelet, you need four things: eggs, peppers, onions, and love.
This circus show doesn’t begin the same way as most others. As we filed into the theater in a suburb six kilometers south of Paris, something was cooking. The auditorium smelled of roasting red peppers… or maybe it was poulet basquaise, or lasagna. Some of the performers were having a picnic on stage, others were juggling, and others were roaming the audience. “Bonsoir,” one of the acrobats greeted us as she shuffled by, clearly looking for a certain kind of spectator to bring up on to the stage. She was white, with blond pigtails, and displayed the kind of acrobatic body with curves but not an ounce of fat. In tight daisy dukes and a blue top, she strutted around and later found her victim – a gentle-looking man in his 50s or 60s, loose-fitting khaki slacks and a long sleeve plaid shirt. He joined her on stage to peel the carrots, and seemed to have a good time chatting throughout.
One of the men took to the microphone and began telling us a passionate story, all in Spanish. At first we could pick up bits and pieces – a banana cake… they were going to make… and a spicy recipe from Thailand? Then his speech accelerated. I kept reaching for my elementary Spanish, the one that helps me eat at restaurants and ask for my clothing size when I’m in Madrid or Barcelona for the weekend, but there was none of that. He was rolling through a tale of great importance and there was no slowing him down. Finally one of the other performers came and whispered something in his ear. He looked back at the audience, incredulously, and asked “Alguien habla español? Alguien habla español?” That much I understood, but he continued, repeating the question with the same sense of urgency with which he had told us his story. Baffled, he paced around the stage, and finally crashed on the couch, defeated.
Once the show had officially started, the performers weaved stories of family life, cooking, and eating with acrobatic mastery and cooking utensils. The Spanish man danced and flipped whipping the air with two large metal whisks, the trim athletic blond showed off her acrobatics atop the wooden cooking block center stage. Another woman, small, brunette, and Russian, did a trapeze performance flipping around in the air with a very long chain of dishtowels.
They blended their circus skills with confessions around cooking. An Argentinean of Italian descent told of pasta, his grandfather, and then flipped up and around a pole, sliding headfirst down so quickly that the child behind us gasped. The Russian told us of borscht. A Quebecoise listed all her favorite desserts: apple tart, cherry tart, strawberry pie, chocolate cake, lemon cake, clafoutis, you get the idea…
Two young Black American men did back flips through hollow squares as a voiceover played, revealing that only time spent alone with Mom as kid was in the kitchen, while the half brothers were out visiting their father.
The show blends together the performance art of cuisine, with the performance art of circus, and results in a kind of enchanting interactive multi-sensory stimulation. I may just be saying that because I’m very passionate about cooking – but my fellow audience members seemed delighted all the same, enjoying the banana cake at the end of the show.
Cuisine et Confessions – performed by Les Sept Doigts de la Main
Théatre Jean Arp, Clamart, France
January 29, 2016