DALLAS As practitioners of the circus arts try to keep up with changing tastes, it seems to be a struggle for any cirque outfit that doesn’t have “du Soleil” in the brand name to carve out an identity. It’s hard to come close to meeting the bar that was raised by the creators of such innovative shows as Quidam and Dralion.
You can see the same circus acts and acrobatic marvels only so many times before it starts to blur together. Aerial straps? Seen it. Giant wheel? Yawn. Teeter-totter? What else you got?
Many of them have the wow factor via seemingly superhuman feats, but few figure out a way to frame it in an engaging or memorable way.
Enter Quebec’s 7 Fingers, which formed in Montreal in 2002 and is finally bringing one of its shows, Traces, to North Texas. Presented in the Lexus Broadway Series at the AT&T Performing Arts Center, Traces opened last week.
Simply put, it’s beyond breathtaking and beyond stunning. It’s awe-inspiring precisely because of the decidedly simple approach it takes to this brand of theatrical spectacle. To make a film analogy, if Cirque du Soleil is akin to the colorful, hyperactive movies of Tim Burton, then think of Traces as French New Wave. Except more minimal.
For starters, it’s all in grimy earth tones, from the set to the T-shirts-and-trousers costumes worn by the cast of six men (Mason Ames, Lucas Boutin, Mathieu Cloutier, Bradley Henderson, LJ Marles and Philippe Normand-Jenny) and one woman (Valerie Benoit-Charbonneau).
The performers begin with an explosive combo of modern-dance vocabulary and acrobatics/tumbling (direction and choreography by Shana Carroll and Gypsy Snider), all while wearing sport coats. Those are shed and their T-shirts grow grimier as the work proceeds.
A microphone swings from a rope and they each introduce themselves with names, birthplace, age and a few descriptors, as if placing online personal ads. Throughout the show, these biographical tidbits and spurts of spoken word emerge, and then there’s a shocking twist at the end that brings this all home for the reality-TV/voted-off-the-island generation.
Yes, the circus feats are amazing, but what makes this show stand out is that the performers go out of their way not to stand out in the traditional ways we think about characterization in cirque shows. It honestly comes off as bored youths channeling their ennui into something creative, and emerging with a circus performance that’s based in street performance and activities, including skateboarding, basketball and parkour.
And while there’s a don’t-try-this-at-home takeaway from any circus performance, the DIY feel is undeniable — and unforgettable. Relationships form, friendships are made, and mortality is explored. These performers come off as approachable and, therefore, relatable.