Circus performers aren't typically the most accessible lot. Flying high above the crowd, they often seem more like gods than humans as they perform superhuman feats of endurance. Yet somehow when you know the performer's name, height, and a bullet list of personality traits, it makes their stunts even more impressive.
That's the idea behind Montreal-based company Les 7 Doigts de la Main, which presents circus on a more human scale. Traces is the second show they created (they have eight others in their repertoire), and it starts out by introducing the cast of seven, from brawny, clumsy Mason to flirtatious, funny Valerie. Throughout the show, they continue to offer tidbits of their personalities through song, monologue, and mind-blowing stunts.
Like last year's hit Circa, this isn't a straight-up, traditional circus show. Tied together by a loose narrative — a group of people are having their last hurrah before the world ends — the show blends theater, dance, and comedy with traditional circus-style acts like acrobatics and aerial contortion. The cast sets the tone early on by gleefully tumbling and leaping across the stage in a well-choreographed display of disarray, bringing life to the dark, desolate set. From there, the dramatic tricks are interspersed with the more fun, playful fare. This gives the performers a chance to rest their hard-working muscles — and the audience a chance to catch their breath. It's like an amuse-bouche between the meaty main courses. It's enjoyable, but we can't wait for the next dish.
After all, that's why we're drawn to the circus — to be impressed and even scared. And the cast accomplishes that, as when one performer bounces off a see-saw-like device to do progressively higher flips in the air, or when another fluidly climbs up and falls from a piece of fabric hanging from the ceiling. Valerie and Mason perform a sexy, sinuous pas de deux that might be mistaken for a traditional ballet performance if he wasn't swinging her between his legs by her neck and lifting her up like a potato sack. Brad Henderson, one of Traces' original members, rolls around the stage in a giant ring, and Xia Zhengqi mesmerizes with the spinning diabolo.
On the lighter side of things, the cast performs fun little dance routines with skateboards and basketballs. They take turns at the piano, and Valerie shows her comedic side by gracefully rolling around on an unruly armchair. The cast hams it up for a reality show in which they're unwittingly competing to be eliminated. These scenes help alleviate the tension created by the more serious stunts, but they also humanize the performers.
At the end of the show, when they ran down the aisles, it felt bittersweet — we'd been thoroughly charmed by their antics. And when they took the stage for a final farewell, the audience leapt to their feet in one of the most boisterous standing ovations we've seen this season.