Traces at ArtsEmerson
A breathtakingly beautiful physical comedy of highest quality
Created by Les 7 Doigts de la Main
Directed and Coreographed by Shana Carroll and Gypsy Snider
Emerson/Cutler Majestic Theatre, Boston
Playing until October 12
In my dreams sometimes I fly. I just take a really long step and then the next without my feet ever touching the ground. It is a peculiar yet precious feeling. The Quebecois troupe Les 7 Doigts de la Main (literally, the seven fingers of a hand), makes the dream a reality in their theater, dance, and circus crossover Traces, running in the Cutler Majestic Theatre in Boston’s Theatre District until October 12.
The artists, seven acrobats by training, played themselves in the face of an impending catastrophe as they attempted to leave their traces by telling their stories though music, dance, speech and high-risk acrobatics. The atmosphere was intimate, and by the end I knew more personal details about the seven on stage than some of my Facebook friends.
The company’s name, 7 Fingers, refers to seven former Cirque du Soleil artists who founded it twelve years ago “to bring circus to a human scale.” The 90-minute, no-intermission Traces opened in Montreal already in 2006 with the original five-member cast directed and choreographed by two of the seven fingers, Shana Carroll and Gypsy Snider. Over the years, the show has been performed in 25 countries and 200 cities more than 1600 times. Perhaps fittingly, the number of actors on stage is now also seven.
Saturday night’s performance was a “flawless victory,” as described by the actors during the following Q&A (Friday and Saturday evenings). While such success does not come by every night, there’s no need to worry, because the company has adopted a “rule of three” — if they miss a trick the first time, they’ll try again, twice if necessary.
At first, the audience clearly held their breaths, scared for the safety of the actors. But soon, their level of professionalism earned my trust. I was sitting in the mezzanine, and a considerable part of the performance took place at eye-level. However, when later asked which part of the play they fear the most, the acrobats’ answers were surprising. “I don’t actually play basketball. That’s the most nerve-wracking for me,” admitted actor Renaldo Williams. Then again, the 24-year-old hand to hand specialist, who has been training with his current partner for three years, is also afraid of spiders, as I had already learned from his opening lines. LJ Marles, another member of the troupe, who described himself with the sentence “People say I’m sarcastic, I say I’m British,” pointed to the piano, which he had to learn specifically for this production.
Traces showed that visual comedy does not have to be cheap, as is often the case in Hollywood movies, but can be rather exquisite and eloquent. Throughout the show, I could not stop smiling. And I was not alone.
Naomi Zimmermann-Pichon’s solo of armchair acrobatics is possibly the best stage appearance ever made by a piece of furniture. All props, from chairs to skateboards, became almost alive at the hands (and feet) of the acrobats. And while the storytelling was anything but linear, it was immensely beautiful. The human body is a work of art worth seeing in theater, and the work of seven is even better.
Don’t get me wrong, there are still many layers of depth to the production. The powerful teeterboarder Fletcher Sanchez also gave a quick-paced speech on the topic of time that could be described as Google Search meets stand-up comedy. The audience was also given an opportunity choose their favorite acrobat, as the character’s survival in the face of the apocalypse would eventually be determined by an X Factor-style vote-off.
My professors’ love for PowerPoint presentations made me at first skeptical of the big white screen, but my reservations quickly dissolved into the actors’ childhood photos, an EKG, and CCTV images from around the theatre. Rarely have I liked video surveillance so much. A crucial part of the show, Nol van Genuchten’s playful lighting was complemented well by an eccentric sound design.
Traces is probably the most life-positive play I have seen. And after the Add Date exam period with the Boston weather slowly becoming, well, Boston weather, this was exactly what the doctor should have ordered.
If you still can, go see Traces. I might even go again myself, because I sure loved it.