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Dinner and a show

ArtsEmerson serves up a culinary circus experience

Celina Colby
Celina Colby is an arts and travel reporter with a fondness for Russian novels.... VIEW BIO
Dinner and a show
Anna Kichtchenko and Melvin Diggs in “Cuisines and Confessions.”

As guests walk into the Cutler Majestic Theatre for “Cuisines and Confessions,” they’re greeted by Spanish hip hop music and requests for kitchen help. Lithe young acrobats step up to the microphone on stage, asking for volunteers to crack eggs and cut peppers. One performer uses a lemon to play catch with a guest seated in the balcony, another chats flirtatiously with a potential love interest.

Playing until August 7, the show is a Cirque du Soleil-style performance with a culinary twist. While telling stories and twirling from the rafters, the acrobats cook three dishes that connect to their personal histories.

Melvin Diggs and Sidney Iking Bateman in “Cuisines and Confessions.”

The incredible athletic skill of the performers is the first hallmark of the production. They perform triple flips and sky-high jumps with breezy elegance. These feats of strength are woven into a fabric of graceful dance steps and even a few vocal performances.

The troupe, Les 7 Doigts de la Main (the seven digits of the hand), features nine performers from all different countries. The actors include Sidney Iking Bateman, Melvin Diggs, Mishannock Ferrero, Anna Kichtchenko, Heloise Bourgeois, Nella Niva, Emile Pineault, Matias Plaul and Pablo Pramparo. The show incorporates their cultural spectrum in language and music style, bringing an international flavor to the work.

What makes Cuisine more intimate than a mass-marketed circus performance are the personal narratives the actors have woven into it. Each one tells, and performs through dance, a story from their lives that begins with food. One man describes how his single mother would cook him an omelet on the weekends as a symbol of their close bond. An actress from Finland describes her childhood as tasting like popcorn. The actors are effortless in their narrative delivery and interactions with the audience, perfectly cultivating the feeling of a group of friends chatting around a kitchen table.

The darkest and most striking of these monologues is the one delivered by Matias Plaul, who describes the loss of his father, a rebel intellectual, to the repressive Argentinean military regime of the ’70s and ’80s.

“If serving food is an act of love,” he ponders aloud, “how do you cook for a man being put to death?

Swinging on a Chinese pole by one arm, he plummets downward to within an inch of the floor, and the audience’s stomachs drop with him. This visual storytelling mixes with the eclectic score and the smell of cooking pasta to create a full sensory experience.

Topping off the immaculate performance is the set, a working kitchen straight out of an Ikea catalog. The acrobats make full use of a sliding ladder, breakfast island, and stackable stools, seamlessly adapting the kitchen to suit each number.

ArtsEmerson has established itself in recent years as a purveyor of the new and unique. Cuisine is the fourth performance Les 7 Doigts de la Main has rolled out at ArtsEmerson, following Traces, Sequence 8, and PSY. The blend of acrobatics, dance, music and cooking is an ideal mix for all audiences. Cuisine is a delicious performance, in heart, humor, execution and banana bread.