‘Traces’ Is An Urban Cirque du Soleil (4.5 Stars)

‘Traces’ – Created by Les 7 Doigts De La Main; Directed and Choreographed by Shana Carroll and Gypsy Snider; Acrobatic Coach – Sebastien Soldevila; Presented by ArtsEmerson: The World On Stage Series at the Emerson/Cutler Majestic Theatre, 219 Tremont St., Boston through October 12.


Like Cirque du Soleil, ‘Traces’ is a stunning ‘circus with a storyline’ that features young, impossibly chiseled performers who will take your breath away with their acrobatic feats and cleverly choreographed dance/gymnastic routines. But that’s where the comparisons end. While the latest incarnation of Cirque du Soleil – the terrific ‘Amaluna’ which came through Boston last summer – borrowed its storyline from ‘The Tempest’ and was embellished with brilliantly colored and wildly exotic costumes, ‘Traces’ is set in an what appears to be an abandoned warehouse with the seven players dressed only in T-shirts and wife beaters using occasional (and minimal) props. And as opposed to drawing on the works of Shakespeare or mythology, this show has a decidedly urban feel, with skateboards, basketball and some hip-hop music sprinkled in.

There’s a vague storyline about these seven characters (six men, one woman) living out their final moments before some unnamed apocalypse takes place (according to the program), but I didn’t connect the story to the thrilling feats, contemporary dance and the serio/comic interplay between the performers. The show also gives us an intimate look into the internal lives of the players, and while I believe it resonated well with the younger selfie-generation in the audience, it was not as effective for me or my similarly aged (50-something) companion. But that is a minor grievance with this often awe-inspiring show and its gifted cast.

The irreverence of the company emerges right from the start with sarcastic pre-show warnings, encouraging people to feel free to text and use their cellphones during the show, and to take flash photography even if it means the performers could be permanently injured, and concludes with the warning that “emergency exits are everywhere, because something terrible could happen at any moment.” The show then launches into a fantastic tumbling routine that sets the stage for as many “oohs” and “ahhhs” as any fireworks display on the Esplanade. Following the opening piece, a microphone descends from the ceiling and each cast member reveals something of themselves, beginning with their date of birth (all 30 or less) and birthplace (an international cast) and conclude with self-defining statements such as “opinionated”, “flirtatious” and even “clumsy”.

The circus acrobatics are often stunning, particularly the stunts involving the 30 foot vertical Chinese pole that all performers take turns on. There is also an extremely clever routine involving a giant hula hoop which one of the performers tames, and as he leaves it alone at the end of the routine, it appears to take on a life of its own. While the cast of performers is deep and talented, China-born Naomie Zimmerman-Pichon nearly steals the show. The lone female performer is as athletic as any of the lads, as evidenced by her flawless work on the Chinese pole, which she makes look ridiculously easy. She also shows her talents as a modern dancer in multiple numbers with the men.

Another huge plus to this show is the musical selection blasted out over the fantastic Emerson/Cutler Majestic Theatre sound system, a collection of hip-hop, rock and jazz numbers. Although none of the tunes were familiar, the music was a perfect accent to the routines, particularly the sensual dance numbers. If you’ve never been to this beautifully restored theater, you owe yourself a trip, and ‘Traces’ is a great reason to go now. For more info, go to: www.artsemerson.org