Traces: NYC Kids Will Want to Jump Up and Join These Awesome Acrobats
My six-year-old daughter and I are huge circus fans. I love edgy, quirky troupes that are all about aerial and acrobatic feats, not animals, while my kid digs everything from over-the-top extravaganzas to more down-to-earth acts.
But when I saw images from Traces, a new Off Broadway show featuring a stripped-down set and a small cast clad in black pants and plain white tees, I wondered if it would hold her interest. With no gimmicks or colorful costumes, I knew the stunts would have to be pretty incredible to keep her entertained.
Well, they totally are. Unlike other circuses, in which each performer has a specialty, the seven stars of Traces are multitalented. They tumble, leap, climb, skateboard, dance, dribble basketballs, even sing and play the piano (some badly for comic effect). It's an exhilarating 90 minutes that also has bleak undertones. Although there's no plot per se, the performers burst with manic energy and seem to be working against the clock—at times literally when a timer appears in the background. There are also allusions to the end of the world and at one point they trace each other's limp bodies with chalk. But don't worry: These are all quick impressionistic bits that will go over most kids' heads. My daughter and the children around us didn't seem disturbed. In fact, all she kept saying was, "Whoa!"
The seven performers in Traces—six men and one woman—are all members of the Montreal-based troupe Les 7 Doigts de la Main. They're young, gorgeous, athletic and totally silly. Since there's no ringmaster, they do their own introductions and use adjectives like romantic, clumsy and inflexible to describe themselves. Then they get down to show business.
Although every act has its charms, my favorites include Xia Zhengqi's incredible gravity-defying diabolo routine, also known as a Chinese yo-yo (you may not recognize the word but trust me, you've seen one); Florian Zemkehr balancing atop a stack of chairs, after which he plays guitar and sings; Bradley Henderson rolling around inside a Cyr-wheel and a totally G-rated poll-dancing number filled with climbing, vaulting and soaring through the air.
The whole show has a very urban feel thanks to the gritty set, loud music (the evocative soundtrack includes rock songs like "Touched" by V.A.S.T. and "Talk Show Host" by Radiohead as well as standards like "Paper Moon") and bits that incorporate street sports like basketball and skateboarding. The skateboarding part is particularly clever: An overhead camera shoots the cast in a Busby Berkeley-type formation, which is projected onto a backdrop.
The finale is, of course, the highlight, as the cast flies through a series of impossibly narrow hoops, which they keep stacking higher and higher. At the performance we attended, some of the performers didn't make it through on their first try, but that just upped their (and the audience's) adrenaline, and they kept going until they succeeded.
My daughter's only complaint: There was no audience participation, but that was fine with me. Traces doesn't need to pander. It's way too cool.
Traces is playing at the Union Square Theatre through January 1. Click here for the schedule. $49-$79 but you can find discounts at broadwaybox.com, and a limited number of $25 rush tickets are sold at the door before each performance.
Images: Michael Meseke