“Traces” by Les 7 Doigts de la Main (7 Fingers): a review from Spoleto

OK, I know Spoleto is over and those living in and near Charleston will probably never get a chance to see “Traces” live anywhere in the Southeast again. [Correction!: “Traces” has dates booked in Nashville, Tampa, and Charlotte in 2013.]

But sometimes I just want to put good energy out into the ether and hope something happens sometime, for somebody’s benefit. And maybe if we’re lucky we’ll get to see another piece at Spoleto in a couple of years by the French Canadian company Les 7 Doigts de la Main,

I mentioned the beautiful and kinetic “Traces” in passing in my City Talk column today musing about some general comparisons between Charleston and Savannah. It’s one of those shows that we simply don’t get in Savannah.

Bradley Henderson of Les 7 Doigts de la Main in "Traces"

[/caption]And I’ve raved before about the big black box of Memminger Auditorium on Beaufain Street — Well, that was a mistake. I liked the Sottile Theatre so much that I got it absolutely confused with the Memminger.

And the performers/dancers/acrobats/actors/singers in “Traces” certainly filled up the cavernous stage.

The premise is a pretty simple one: the half dozen performers occasionally share details from their own lives into a mic that drops from the high ceiling, and then they launch into routines that require incredible acrobatic skills, or delicate dance skills, or a bit of musicianship and singing — and always require a keen sense of drama and timing.

On several occasions, the physical accomplishments seemed so amazing that the audience burst into applause — just before the moment when the routine seemed astonishingly to double in difficulty.

According to the program notes, there were 7 artists (the 7 fingers?) in town for the Spoleto gig, but that the performers don’t all perform in every show because of the physical rigors. For the Saturday afternoon matinee, there were five men — Mason Ames, Mathieu Cloutier, Bradley Henderson, Philippe Norman-Jenny, and Xia Zhengqi — and one woman, Valerie Benoit-Charbonneau. Several of the artists came to 7 Fingers (as it is simply translated) with Cirque du Soleil experience, and most at some point attended either the National Circus School in Montreal or the Circus School of Quebec.

Which raises a question: just how many circus schools does one Canadian province need?

One of the most striking routines involved the 6’3″, 220-something pound Ames and the diminutive Benoit-Charbonneau in a romantic, almost sentimental dance punctuated with moves that demanded amazing strength and balance from Ames — and all that plus fearlessness from Benoit-Charbonneau.

But my favorite numbers were the most purely thrilling ones, like when the artists scaled and flipped off of two floor-to-ceiling horizontal poles. Think the parallel bars in gymnastics, only vertical.

Or when a see-saw was used to catapult one member into the air while two others made sure to catch him in the safety padding.

There were also quieter moments, like when the characters took turns adding elements to a drawing on a simple overhead projector — the tone changed quickly from warm to apocalyptic.

My friend Adrienne and I were in agreement that the weakest moments of the 80-plus minute show came during a skateboard routine. The artists just didn’t look like they had been skating their whole lives, and without a halfpipe or at least one good ramp, there’s no way a skateboard trick could come close to matching the sheer athleticism of most of the show, like when the 5’5″ Zhengqi literally leaping through a small hoop that’s 6 feet off the ground.

Henderson, a native of San Francisco, had some especially strong moments — in more ways than one — as he seemed to break dance while spreadeagled in a large metal hoop and as he scaled a floor-to-ceiling pole with astonishing speed, using just his arms as his legs just dangled below.

There was no narrative line to “Traces”, but there was a moral thrust to it, with imagery of passing time becoming more prominent as the thrilling performance edged all-too-soon toward its conclusion.

Here’s a brief visual preview for anyone who has a chance to see “Traces”, which is currently on an open run at the Union Square Theater in New York: