Fuse Theater Review: “Traces” — Dazzling On-Stage Mayhem

The more-than-satisfactory appeal of Traces is to see these gifted athletes perform time-honored circus skills – the attempt to make the performers look like televised rock stars falls flat.

Traces, produced by Les 7 Doigts de la Main. Direction and choreography by Shana Carroll and Gypsy Snider. Presented by ArtsEmerson at the Emerson/Cutler Majestic Theatre, 219 Tremont Street, Boston, through October 12.

A scene from "Traces."

A instance of physical derring-do from “Traces.”

By Robert Israel

7 Doigts de la Main combines the talents of seven energetic twenty-something performers – six men and a woman — who scale poles, leap into the air, dance, collide into one another, and create thrilling on stage mayhem. They perform these feats often wordlessly, lifting our spirits along the way. There is not much of a script to speak of — the goal of Traces is to wow us with the physical prowess of its performers, who hail from China, Mexico, France, and the United States. Which they do — often.

It’s marvelous entertainment, great family fun, the rock score throbs but it’s never overwhelming, and the inevitable strobe lights are used minimally throughout the show’s 90 minutes. The troupe also makes use of video, projecting televised images of the audience members as they arrive onto a screen at the rear of the stage. It’s mostly a distraction, keeping us intrigued, struggling to see if we can find themselves – a televised version of Where’s Waldo? – before the circus antics begins.

The English equivalent of “7 Doigts de la Main,” translates as “seven fingers of the hand.” Think of the way visionary artist Marc Chagall represented the charmed figures in his paintings of Russian Jewish villages and you have an idea of what this image suggests. Fantastical, colorful, dynamic, connected to one another yet distinct individuals, the’s group’s onstage presence is joyous. Like the enchanted people who live in Chagall’s mystical village, they appear to float, effortlessly, during their leaps, defying gravity. And when gravity pulls them earthward, they refuse to be compromised and make running starts to leap higher, aided in their trajectories by some wondrous props.

7 Doigts is a traveling troupe that, since its founding in Montreal in 2002, has toured 25 countries, according to the program note. An outgrowth of the National Circus School in Montreal, it owes much to Cirque du Soleil, another Montreal-based circus arts troupe, founded in 1984, that has soared to success and currently has three productions playing in the United States and Canada.

When the show begins the performers introduce themselves and they repeat these info sessions twice during the evening, but we never really get to know them individually. When the action stops, and their images are projected onto the screen — aping TV’s American Idol when audience members are urged to call or text in their votes for the finalists –it comes off as charming initially. But the the multimedia move is really an unnecessary distraction. The more-than-satisfactory appeal of this show is to see these gifted athletes perform time-honored circus skills – the attempt to make them look like televised rock stars falls flat.

Ultimately, what emerges from Traces is the spirit of camaraderie that exists among all seven performers. They clearly are closely bonded, look out for one another during the high leaps, spotting each other as they scale the poles above the stage. They pair up, joke around, tease one another, sometimes mimicking the way the Harlem Globetrotters perform their goofy antics with a basketball. They are multi-talented, each taking a turn to play the piano, each allotted a moment to outshine the other, each hamming it up for applause. Yet at the end of these cameos, they return to the hand they are connected to, suggesting that they are bound to one another — their unity is a source of strength.

When 7 Doigts head off to the theatre lobby at the close to the show, the audience cheering them on, their image as a troupe is projected onto the same screen in which we saw ourselves similarly projected at the onset of the show. Looking like candlestick pins in a bowling alley, they are clearly out of breath, exhausted, and exhilarated, all at once. It’s a moment of triumph, one of many that make this show well worth seeking out.

Robert Israel writes about theater, travel and the arts, and is a member of Independent Reviewers of New England (IRNE). He can be reached at risrael_97@yahoo.com

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