When acrobat Colin Davis appears at the beginning of Sequence 8 in the role of a suit-and-tie-wearing radio announcer, a kind of Ira-without-Glasses, he is introducing acrobatics with a meta-narrative. Last year, when the Montreal-based Les 7 doigts de la main appeared in Boston with their Chinese pole, German wheel, and trapeze, the show was driven by a half-baked psychotherapy theme and a great dollhouse-cum-launch-pad of a set.
This time around, 7 doigts' Sequence 8 runs on the camaraderie and occasional romance of its youthful performers. Wearing jeans and tees instead of circus spangles, they make kinetic references, not Freudian ones.
A large part of acrobatic art is expectation. There's a built-in thrill watching a human being fly upwards and, as if bouncing off the sky, fall back to earth. Sequence 8's performers' superb musical timing to everything from C2C and Ben Harper to Tosca adds extra punch. (So does the stray pertinent lyric, such as Tunng's line, "We're catching bullets in our teeth/ though it's easy when you know how it's done." Yeah, that's what you say.)
With the summer Olympics in recent memory, it's delicious to see Maxim Laurin, an energetic trapeze artist, and Ugo Dario, whose pliant face resembles that of a young Marcel Marceau, bounce off the teeterboard and perform the somersaults, twists, and layouts of world-class divers. Alexandra Royer, with her dark frizzy hair and kewpie-doll eyes, plays up her vulnerability on the Russian bar — a kind of slack balance beam — and nails every element.
All acrobatic shows trade on increasing complexity — we're always wondering How can they top that? — but Sequence 8 uses expectation as a dramatic engine. Eric Bates does an impressive trick juggling three white cigar boxes that seem glued together by their momentum. Over the course of the evening, he gets us to anticipate what he's going to do, which makes a later sight gag all the funnier.
There are some dull spots: a Spider-Man reference involving black tape that should have showed more invention, performers stripping down to underwear for no apparent reason, deliberately lame breakdancing. During this 90-minute work, the pacing of the first half outshines the second. But when, during a faux author interview, Davis explains that Bates is flogging How To Live with the Box You're Thinking Outside Of, he's not merely making a joke about self-help books. He's describing how the 7 doigts' wonderful art is made.
LES 7 DOIGTS DE LA MAIN IN SEQUENCE 8 :: Through October 7 :: Cutler Majestic Theatre, 219 Tremont St, Boston :: $25-$79 :: 617.824.8000 or artsemerson.org