Theater review: Entertaining ‘Traces’ Occupies a Space of its Own

Traces 1Please forgive my calling this a theater review, since that description is about expedient categorization and not a description of the novel experience that is Traces.

It would be easy and quite glib to say that Traces is Cirque du Soleil stripped down or Stomp without the trash can lids. That would also get it wrong.

Traces 2For 90 minutes on the stage of Tennessee Performing Art’s Jackson Hall stage Tuesday spirited young performers from Montreal’s 7 Fingers troupe – Matthew Greenfield, Valérie Benoît-Charbonneau, Lucas Boutin (who incidentally turned 23 on Tuesday), Mathieu Cloutier, Bradley Henderson, LJ Marles and Philippe Normand-Jenny – provided an acrobatic circus like no other.

Traces, to use 7 Fingers’ own description, fuses classic acrobatics with such street forms as skateboard, basketball and parcours (defined by The Free Dictionary as a “sport or athletic activity in which the participant seeks to move quickly and fluidly through an area, often an urban locale, by surmounting obstacles such as walls and railings and leaping across open spaces, as in a stairwell or between buildings”). Company co-founders Shana Carroll and Gypsy Snider are the directors-choreographers of the smooth-flowing no-intermission show.

Traces 3If there’s anything that connects the multi-discipline performance – which has had a successful New York run in addition to tours here and abroad – into a very loose narrative it’s the question of what traces we may leave behind when we’re all gone (hence the title). We get names and personality traits from each performer as a microphone suspended from the flies of Jackson Hall swings back and forth, and there’s an overhead camera that gives us a perspective of the proceedings that Busby Berkeley would have loved.

From spins in a large metal Cyr Wheel and a pas de deux that seemingly defies gravity to vertical Chinese pole poses where physics seem forgotten and hurtles through rings that get progressively higher, the Traces troupe presents feats that allow us to enjoy the enthralling combination of athletic precision and artful grace (they provide some nice piano and guitar along the way as well). I won’t pick a favorite, but I will say that Benoît-Charbonneau’s interaction with a book and a recliner reminded me of my daughter (who accompanied me to the show), so perhaps that was the piece with which I most readily identified. (She and Marles at different points in the show offer work with aerial straps that’s mind-blowing.)

Traces 4Kudos to Nol van Genuchten for his lighting design are in order too. His gobo light templates, combined with frontal lighting and projections, create patterns and effects add dramatic dimensions to the onstage action. The apocalyptic minimalism of Flavia Hevia’s set is a nice touch as well.

No, Traces is not theater, acrobatics, ballet or even a circus in the traditional sense. It takes elements from those disciplines, adds youthful energy and a fun-loving style and creates an entertaining world all its own. Go see it, and don’t think too much about it when you’re there – just enjoy the all-out efforts of some very gifted performers.

Traces 5HCA/TriStar Health Broadway at TPAC presents Traces through Sunday (Feb. 24) at TPAC’s Andrew Jackson Hall (505 Deaderick St.). Shows are at 7:30 p.m. Today and Thursday; 8 p.m. Friday; 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., Saturday; 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m., Sunday. Tickets start at $15 and are on sale now by visiting www.tpac.org, calling (615) 782-4040, and visiting the TPAC Box Office, 505 Deaderick Street, in downtown Nashville. For groups of 10 or more, call (615) 782-4060. For more information on Traces, please visit www.tracesusa.com or www.facebook.com/tracesusa.

*Photos by Michael Meseke ©2010 courtesy 7 Fingers and TPAC.

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About Evans Donnell

Evans Donnell is the chief theater, film and opera critic as well as co-founder of ArtsNash. He wrote reviews and features about theater, opera and classical music for The Tennessean from 2002 to 2011. He was the theater, film and opera critic for ArtNowNashville.com from 2011 to 2012. Donnell has also contributed to The Sondheim Review, Back Stage, The City Paper (Nashville), the Nashville Banner, The (Bowling Green, Ky.) Daily News and several other publications since beginning his professional journalism career in 1985 with The Lebanon (Tenn.) Democrat. He was selected as a fellow for the 2004 National Critics Institute at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center, and for National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) arts journalism institutes for theater and musical theater at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism in 2006 and classical music and opera at the Columbia University School of Journalism in 2009. He has also been an actor (member of Actors Equity Association and SAG-AFTRA), founding and running AthensSouth Theatre from 1996 to 2001 and appearing in Milos Forman's "The People vs Larry Flynt" among other credits. Donnell is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association (www.americantheatrecritics.org).