Traces @ Peacock Theatre, London

performed by
Heloise Bourgeois, Francisco Cruz, Brad Henderson, Philip Rosenburg, Will Underwood

directed by
Shana Carroll and Gypsy Snider
The performance troupe Les 7 Doigts de la Main was founded in Montreal in 2002 by bringing together performers from such prestigious companies as Cirque du Soleil and Teatro Zinzanni.

Traces, the second of three shows that the company has produced, was created in 2006 and appeared at both the Edinburgh Festival and New York’s Spiegeltent in 2007.

The company’s goal is to ‘bring circus to a human scale’, and it achieved this, to some extent, with its first show, Loft, when the directors rejected traditional circus razzmatazz for the intimate environment of an artist’s loft!

Traces continues the company’s main mission, but this time features five performers in their twenties who bring their own skills, style and attitude to the proceedings. The acrobatics, skateboarding and basketball seen on stage only account for half of the experience. Just as important is the way that the show focuses on the characters of the five individual performers, and firmly roots the circus acts within the context of popular youth culture.

The tone of the evening is set before a performer has even set foot on the stage. A large screen shows people entering the auditorium in real time, and then an off-stage voice reminds everyone to keep their cell phones on (‘you never know who might call’) and to take flash photographs (‘even though it could blind and hurt the performers’). The show then starts with a dance routine in which the five performers strut, dance, swirl and fight each other with attitude. It is a slick routine in which the lifting and throwing of people is managed particularly well.

The first half continues to examine emotions frequently experienced by youths. One dance features the only female performer, Heloise Bourgeois, searching for love, but then shying away from the ‘lecherous’ advances of the men, in a routine that highlights the desires and vulnerabilities of every person. Another sees the players chalking games such as noughts and crosses on each other’s T-shirts before the mood becomes more melancholic, with Heloise drawing a heart on Philip’s front. This first half concludes with a host of tricks performed on the Chinese poles, in which the players support each other in carrying them out, but also appear hostile towards each other’s achievements, as if they are jealous.

To complement this, much is made of the fact that the performers play themselves. They all provide facts about themselves (such as being addicted to cereal), address each other by their real names, and reach for water bottles on stage as soon as the interval arrives as a part of the act.

But focusing on the individuals to such an extent had its drawbacks. There was a weak song from Francisco in which he sang of how he needed ‘you’ to each of the other performers, and showing large baby photographs of them all added nothing. Similarly, staging an episode of ‘Infinity House’ (i.e. Big Brother), in which each actor was evicted in turn based upon their performance that evening, was a cumbersome vehicle to show off one (albeit good) seesaw trick, each housemate in turn being ejected from its end. More interesting was hearing how the show got its name. When staring at a photograph of her dead father, and realising he couldn’t stare back, Heloise knew all she had left was a trace of him.

The most memorable sequence was the hoop jumping, in which each member jumped through relatively small hoops stacked four or five high – often feet first. Overall, however, though the circus acts were impressive, there were few that I hadn’t seen performed elsewhere to at least as high a standard. Under such circumstances, the show was made unique by the way that it used the personalities of the five individuals to support the overall performance. It was just a shame, though, that perhaps a little too often the explorations into the people were allowed to form the acts in their own right.

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