Traces delivers high-energy theater that transcends language barriers

  • Posted: Tuesday, June 5, 2012 12:08 a.m., Updated: Tuesday, June 5, 2012 12:56 p.m.
2012 Spoleto Festival USA Traces photo by Michael Meseke

Last week Circle of Eleven’s “Leo” sold-out its Spoleto performances, including two last-minute additions. Wednesday, the festival’s second physical theater offering, “Traces,” opens at the Sottile Theatre.

Traces

WHEN: 7 p.m. June 6; 8 p.m. June 7; 8 p.m. June 8; 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. June 9; 2 p.m. June 10

WHERE: Sottile Theatre, 44 George St.

COST: $30-$75

Both shows can be termed “physical theater” because of the performers’ ability to communicate with minimal dialogue and maximal physicality. The one-man “Leo” communicates with the audience using miming and visual illusions, while the high-energy circus feats and street performance of Les 7 Doigts de la Main’s “Traces” weaves together a narrative about a post-apocalyptic world.

“You can look into the crowd and people from all places, all ages are enjoying the show,” said Mason Ames, a “Traces” acrobat. “No matter where we are, or who’s in the audience, everyone walks away with this shared experience.”

In 2005, Shana Carroll and Gypsy Snider devised “Traces” for four acrobats they had been coaching for years. Carroll said that as they watched the raw athleticism of these young people, they began to create a show that featured the multi-faceted abilities of a single human.

“We found a concept to accept their youth, their street performance qualities,” Carroll said. “When you’re in your 20s, you are still young enough to believe you can change the world.”

In “Traces” the performers converge under a makeshift shelter and begin to rebuild the world with art. The characters in the show reveal a personal narrative through their specific acrobatic talents, set to a soundtrack that includes Radiohead and Dropkick Murphys.

In 2008, they reshaped “Traces” around seven new acrobats. They made sure to keep the basic structure and themes Carroll describes as “existential,” while adapting to the specific talents of the cast.

Last July, “Traces” played the Off-Broadway Union Square Theatre in New York City, where the show remains in an open-ended run.

“The extremes to which these performers go in the show came from a personal belief that we should leave nothing left unlived, unsaid,” Carroll said. “And the ability to say that through the human body is incredible.”

Ames, who has been with “Traces” for more than two years, performs hand-to-hand stunts with the troupe’s only woman, Valérie Benoît-Charbonneau. They grip one another’s hands and use their combined muscular power for a high-energy balancing act.

Benoît-Charbonneau spends a great deal of the show above the heads of the other performers, as she is the flyer in a feat known as Banquine, in which she is vaulted into airborne somersaults.

Unlike traditional theater, which relies on spoken language, physical theater demands mastery of the human body.

“It’s difficult to find people with the extensive training required for this show,” Carroll said. “Most of our cast has been studying their individual skills for years.”

“Traces” has found success outside of its French-speaking Montreal home. Its ability to break down any language barrier, the show has visited Spain, Italy and Japan, among other countries.

In order to communicate with international audiences, movements must be precise and meaningful. When native German Tobias Wegner performed his show “Leo” last week, Spoleto audiences got it. No words required.

“I found out that people, no matter their cultural background or language, have a common sense of humor,” Wegner said. “To experience audiences around the world and their reactions is extremely fascinating to me, and I appreciate it as a gift.”

Lauren Smart is a New-house School graduate student.

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