As I was in the process of writing this review, the producers of the new Off-Broadway production Traces announced that the show would be extending its run until January 2012. The show opened last week to some really strong reviews, so the extension was certainly no surprise. Traces was originally scheduled to play until October 9th, which means this extension will more than double the originally scheduled run for the show.
This is good news for you, dear reader, as it gives you what I hope will be ample time to head down to the Union Square Theater and catch this awe-inspiring demonstration of athleticism and showmanship. Traces was devised by that other circus group that operates out of Quebec, called 7 Fingers. (Boston readers may recall the show Psy, another 7 Fingers show, which recently played two well-received stints at the Paramount Theater.) And Traces amounts to just about the most enjoyable show currently playing New York, both in terms of artistry and sheer entertainment value. Well, the most enjoyable show you can actually get tickets to. (See The Book of Mormon. Or, well, if you could see it, that is...)
Traces is essentially a series of thoroughly impressive acrobatic acts, artfully combined with equal parts dance, multimedia, and art installation. (Watch this video for a preview.) Think Cirque du Soleil without the pretense. Now, don't get me wrong, I'm a big fan of Cirque. But it does seem that they've gotten a bit too big for their britches lately. The Cirque folks seem to be making each successive show bigger, splashier, and more visually impressive. And along the way they've disconnected their audiences from the people underneath the lycra, foam rubber, and Ben Nye.
Traces restores the intimacy to many of the same acts one might see at a Cirque show: the setting is comparatively small, the performers wear street clothes. And the acts themselves become all the more impressive in the process by revealing the human face and effort behind the astonishing physical feats.
For example, in Zarkana, the Cirque du Soleil show that's currently playing at Radio City Music Hall (Read my review), the first act ends with about a dozen or so performers manipulating Cyr wheels, which are essentially large rings that people stand inside and roll around the stage. (Click here to see a video. It's a lot more impressive than I'm making it sound.) On the cavernous stage of the Radio City Music Hall, the efforts of these admittedly fine performers were somewhat lost. But when you're watching one person do it up close, especially someone as skilled as Bradley Henderson, who performs the Cyr wheel segment in Traces, the effect is downright thrilling.
The same sense of immediacy benefits all of the acts, of which Traces is abundantly supplied: hand balancing, feats of strength, aerial acrobatics, banquine, and more. One of the most dazzling sequences involved Chinese yo-yos, which most of the cast participated in, but which features the astonishing skill of Xia Zhengqi. I've seen similar acts before, and Zhengqi was by far the most skillful and sure-handed performer I've ever witnessed at this feat. Simply unbelievable.
The show ends with a tumbling sequence involving an increasingly number of hoops piled atop one another, which the cast members proceed to jump through in feats of increasing difficulty. And there were actually a good number of mistakes, but somehow that added to the delicious tension as the sequence progressed. The previous errors made the sequence more unnerving as the moves got progressively more challenging. I can't help thinking that the mistakes are planned, or at least tolerated, for just that reason. And I have absolutely no problem with that.
One of the chief assets of Traces is its amiable and...well...I might as well admit it, good-looking cast. (The cast comprises six hunky males and one lithe female, all decidedly easy on the eyes.) The piece features various monologues and biographical speeches from the cast members, which add to the humanity and charm of the show as a whole. And in between the acrobatic acts, the show intersperses vibrant dance, a charming skateboard ballet, a humorous reality-show spoof, and some admittedly abstruse stage business regarding the show's central conceit. ("Traces" refers obliquely to something about what we leave behind when we're gone, and involves some vague apocalyptic references. Whatever.)
But the charm of Traces lies not in its mere suggestion of a narrative, but in its stunning physical feats. Do yourself a favor and watch the video above. I think it will convince you to grab a ticket if you're in the New York area. Hey, now you've got until January, so even if you're not in the New York area, you might want to plan a trip, or at least check the Traces Web site to see if the show is headed in your direction. I think you'll be really glad that you did.