Tuesday, June 18, 2013
Theater review: Traces will wow you with acrobatics and dance
Flips, flying, fun ... here nothing is off limits.
DALLAS You are most likely scratching your head wondering what on earth is “Mr. Musical Theater addict/theater critic/actor” doing attending and reviewing a performance art piece called Traces?
When I received the press invite, a bell in the back of my brain rang loudly and I immediately wondered, “Is this the same group I saw on NBC’s reality competition show, America’s Got Talent?” Because when I saw them on the show they blew my mind away. So I checked on good ol’ Google and sure enough, it was them! So I had to attend Tuesday’s press night to see this show in person. Talk about making the right decision!
Traces was originally created in Montreal, the same Canadian city that brought to the masses Cirque Du Soleil, Cirque Eloize, Circus Smirkis, 7 Fingers Production (Traces is just one of their shows), and the National Circus School in Quebec. It must be in their water that the Canadians have such an addiction to the creation of very interesting performance art mashed up with acrobatics.
Since my background is theater, I really knew nothing of this performance company or this genre. So I thought it best to go straight to the main source to describe what Traces is all about. The following is taken directly from their official website.
“Stripping away everything you thought you knew about the big top, Traces fuses the traditions of circus with the energy of street performance to create an explosive display of emotion and physicality set to the music of Radiohead, VAST, Blackalicious, and more.”
“Les 7 Doigts de la Main" translates literally as “the seven fingers of the hand.” It is a twist on a French idiom (“the five fingers of the hand”) used to describe distinct parts united tightly, moving in coordination towards one common goal. Here it refers to the seven founding directors of the company (Shana Carroll, Isabelle Chasse, Patrick Léonard, Faon Shane, Gypsy Snider, Sébastien Soldevila and Samuel Tétreault) who, by combining their distinct talents and experiences, work towards their common artistic goals with the beautifully awkward dexterity of a seven-fingered hand.”
So what exactly is Traces? Performed by seven artists, “Traces is a new form of circus artistry with high energy urban acrobatics fused with elements of contemporary dance, music, theatre, and poetry - no red noses or animals in this circus!
“Traces does not have a linear narrative; instead it’s a poetic and explosive performance told through acrobatic feats and awe-inspiring moves. Part dance show, part introspective performance art, the performers often address the audience and share personal information before continuing their explosive stunts.”
In the Playbill, the artists and creators of Traces stated they want to take the common opinion of a circus and give it their own personal view and artistry of what a modern day circus would be in their eyes. Gone are tents, clowns in garish makeup, pastel costumes and animals. They instead use modern music of various genres, unique props and no hint of Madame La Grange and her circus poodles-type performance.
From my point of view, here is what I think the storyline conveyed. The set design originally designed by Flavia Hevia and adapted for the tour by 7 Fingers is one of a decaying, frayed, vacant room devoid of any color. Shredded fabric is swayed and hanging around the stage. Dead center is a video screen that later on will serve as a “storyteller” by flashing live images from the stage, the performers’ on stage drawing images on the floor (using chalk) and so on. Because early on a voice over makes a comment about a nuclear attack, you get a sense these are survivors of this horrific event who took shelter in some corroded, ruined building. The fabrics are coarse and in muted colors to give a deteriorated look. Thus it gives the stage a very apocalyptic look and feel.
Towards the end of the evening the storyline takes a bizarre twist in that the voiceover tells the audience they can call and vote for which artist you want to keep, and the one with the least votes will be eliminated. But you are not told what that actually means. A cameraman appears on stage left and shows live images of the seven artists on stage, each with their own phone number waving to the camera. But once they are informed one will be eliminated, their facial expressions change completely. Think Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome without Tina Turner.
All seven artists are in Manon Desmarais’ designs of grays, whites and blacks, again following the theme of no color on stage. The company is dressed in grey jackets, white button shirts, T-shirts and tank tops, with very light, flowing pants. So your mind creates this vision that maybe the attack happened in the daytime when all these people were at work or going through their daily routines.
Nol Van Genuchten’s lighting design is caliginous in its devoid of color. Neutral colors bathe the stage. But as the evening progresses there are splashes of color, such as bright purples, blues, and reds; it’s like a rebirth of light, life and happiness when colors do appear on stage. This works so well with the subtext of untold story of the theme. After such destruction, and after a long period of only whites and beiges covering the stage, the burst of color is like a flicker of hope and life beyond the ugliness of the aftermath outside.
Each artist on stage is allowed to speak to the audience and tell them who they are, what their likes and dislikes are, and their background. This gives a remarkable subtext to the evening as you see how their personalities are interwoven within the storyline and with each other. Midway through the show the video screen flashes pictures of each artist from infant to child to teen to adult. We see the transformation of each artist that makes you really care for them even more.
They are not only remarkable acrobats but also serine, exquisite dancers. A couple of them are vocalists who sing with melodic, soothing voices. They also all play the piano. Each digs deep into the unspoken storyline to flesh out the subtext with riveting acting. They work as an outstanding, unified company. The chemistry is sturdy and very believable to the audience.
Here’s one small example on how blended they are in both their talents and with each other. At the beginning, they introduce themselves while another artist plays the piano. After that artist introduces him/her self, that artist then takes over the piano to allow the next artist to introduce themselves to the audience. Not once do they lose the flow of the music coming from the piano. Remarkable!
The artists use everything you can think of to create mind blowing, acrobatic scenes/numbers. They use rubber rings, a basketball, a plush armchair, regular chairs, skateboards and other things that are strewn about the stage.
Each artist is given their own spotlight sequence within the show. It’s one thing to see these feats of jaw-dropping amazement, but you are also on the edge of your seat because of the danger and finesse of these numbers/routines displayed before your eyes.
All seven artists are PHENOMINAL on stage! They will astound you with the dazzling feats they achieve with their acrobatic talents. Some memorable moments include:
Mason Ames and Valérie Benoît-Charbonneau, the lone female in the company, who do a haunting, powerful duet. The subtext is that of a man who does not respond to her affections and love for him. Ames (who is 6'2") flips, throws, twists and flings Charbonneau high in the air like she was a paper doll. There are moments within the routine where Ames throws Charbonneau high into the air, flips her, and then lets her land just an inch from the floor! They both react to each other like a couple in deep conflict over their relationship, using both sublime choreography and remarkable acrobatics to tell their story.
Later on, Charbonneau has a magnificent solo on the aerial straps, dressed in a simple red dress. She floats high above the audience and creates haunting, dramatic movements of dance and acrobatics with her body. When she spins high in the air, the skirt of her red dress floats and flickers to resemble life like rose petals in the wind. She also has a very comical yet amazing routine with an armchair and red book.
Phillipe Normand-Jenny is the scene stealer within the cast. He has a mischievous twinkle in his eye and the most animated facial expressions. He is the one who achieves the laughs of the night. His specialization is the teeterboard and trampoline which is a major show stopper of the evening. What until you see the height this guy goes to!
LJ Marles also has a solo routine with aerial straps that leaves you speechless. The artistry and execution of the complicated choreography, using only two strips of material and being high in the air, is done with superlative results by Marles.
For Bradley Henderson, one of two Native Americans within the company, his specialty number is using a full-size hula hoop-style silver ring. Standing inside the ring, he creates a dizzy array of images, stunts and spins that are outstanding to observe. How he never once loses speed or control of that huge ring is mind boggling.
As a full company, some of the stand out routines include a routine that involved just chairs; they jump, flip, toss and fling themselves all over the stage with these chairs and the feats are a feast for the eyes. Another number they use just skateboards. This is a comical routine but the choreography and use of the boards is both funny and visually exciting.
But the show-stopping number of the night has to be the one involving two very tall gray poles placed dead center. At first they look they are made of metal, but once climbed you realize they are made of a rubbery material. The choreography and acrobatics performed within these poles is nothing short of astounding. They fly through the air between the poles; they slide at rapid speed from the top of the poles to so close to the stage floor you can see their hair brush it! This sequence will have you gasping and applauding constantly. It’s a heart stopper for sure!
At the end of the show, red warning lights placed at the apron of the stage and above begin to flash, allowing the seven artists the chance to escape! But escape from what? Who? Where? The final moment is very cathartic and one you need to see for yourself.
Traces swims in a pool of subtext that asks the audience to decide on their own what the “story” is. But within this pool, their resplendent, powerful and astonishing feats of acrobatic creation and choreography are something your eyes will not believe. The seven artists use and contort their bodies to such extreme degrees that you’ll be clutching your program for fear they will injure themselves.
Traces is a stunning, high energy evening of performance art, with heart-pounding visual illusions and feats that will have you gasping and applauding all evening long. There is no “book” per se, and this exquisite company uses very little dialogue; mostly their bodies tell the story. Their artistry is something you cannot miss.
You will leave the theater in disbelief of what you just witnessed and the palms of your hands red from constant clapping and grabbing the arms of your seat! You must experience Traces live. It is an evening that is so special and unique mere words cannot express!
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