Two hundred and twenty summer festivals will be presented in the southern French region of Provence-Cote-d’Azur this summer to include more than one thousand five hundred performances. Most of these will concentrate on drama and music, but many include dance performances, and some, like Marseille, Montpellier and Vaison-la-Romaine present regular, annual dance festivals with national and international dance companies. Southern France is especially well suited to these mainly open-air events where performances take place in ancient Roman amphitheatres, the courtyards of medieval palaces and cathedrals, or on stages where the Mediterranean forms a natural backdrop. Despite the discomfort of spending a couple of hours on stony, tiered seating and the vagaries of the weather, occasionally exploding with a summer thunderstorm or whipping up the violent Mistral wind, one is easily overcome by the magic of it all. Natural stones and ancient ruins become part of the scenery, the star-filled sky adds another dimension to the stage picture and the enforced informality brings audience and performers together is a relaxed and enjoyable manner.

The Roman amphitheatre, the Théatre Antique, in the small Provençal town of Vaison-la-Romaine is a perfect setting for a performance such as that presented by the Canadian company The Seven Fingers of the Hand as part of this year’s dance festival. Their new programme,  (premiered in Canada in the autumn of 2014) is called Cuisine and Confessions, a mixture of circus arts, dance, music, narration – and cooking. The performance appeared to be already in full swing as the audience entered, the stage set a full sized kitchen, complete with cookers and utensils and the cast busy at work. Some also wandered among the audience, distributing chocolates and making friends, while others continued arranging the furniture onstage. The programme notes explain that the ‘confessions’ are the sort of stories about childhood and the past a group of friends might tell each other while sitting over the kitchen table after a good meal. Each of the nine performers tell such as a story, while executing complicated and excellently performed acrobatic and circus skills, juggling a pile of kitchen tools, jumping through wooden frames or hanging nonchalantly from a trapeze made from a kitchen towel. Most of the multi-national performers come from the National Circus School in Montreal and excel in many skills of circus performance. The three women are obviously also dance trained and the ensemble dance scenes almost worked best of all, very lively, very precise and lots of fun. The ‘confessions’ also inspired some very quiet and lyrical scenes, while the most impressive was an Argentinian performer’s story of his father, one of the ‘disappeared’ from the time of the generals in Argentina where any opposition members was imprisoned, and disappeared. He illustrated this by climbing up a very high pole to turn upside-down and come sliding down the pole head- first and at great speed, just to stop a second before impact.

The performance did weaken a little about half way through when members of the audience were invited up on stage (always a dangerous move) to help with mixing and cutting in the kitchen. But this did bring about a packed stage for a big song and dance number and a series of very lively scenes followed, lots of tumbling and somersaulting, incredible leaps from height and beautiful overhead trapeze numbers especially from the Russian Anna Kichtenko. The audience of nearly 2000 gasped and cheered like children at a real circus and were rewarded with the results of the evening’s cooking, served on the front of the stage at the end of the performance.