In its hybrid of acrobatics, dance and athletics, Montreal's 7 Fingers troupe celebrates the complex individual.
Tired from all that last-minute Christmas shopping? Need a pick-me-up? Pop into the Panasonic Theatre and partake of the pure energy rush known as Traces by Montreal nouveau cirque troupe 7 Fingers. It’s better than a six-pack of Red Bull and probably healthier, too—that is unless, in a fit of post-show exhilaration, you’re foolish enough to try one of their daring acrobatic feats yourself.
Such is the deceptive charm of Traces, which treats some highly difficult physical stunts as if they were just another garden-variety skill, like strumming a ballad on the guitar or painting Chinese calligraphy. Part of the trick is that this intimate show presents its seven performers as well-rounded individuals who sing, draw, tell jokes, play musical instruments—and just happen to be awesome acrobats as well. Eager to assert their identities, they share their personality traits with us along with their vital stats and childhood photos.
Add to that a casual approach to their craft, as if the seven were just killing time in a space that, conceptually, is meant to be a makeshift shelter from some pending apocalypse, but could just as easily be a rehearsal hall with a piano in one corner and an overhead projector in another.
The apocalyptic theme is a bit foggy, but it does add some tension and a sense of danger to the 90-minute piece, which is at its most artistically exciting when it melds acrobatics and dance. The most striking sequence is an ensemble number that has everyone clambering desperately back and forth between two parallel poles, like the crackling electrical arcs of a Jacob’s Ladder, while the uncoiling menace of Radiohead’s “Talk Show Host” serves as a soundtrack. But no less inventive is a witty solo, performed by the lone female in the cast, Anne-Marie Godin, in which she swarms all over a swiveling armchair as if trying to find a comfortable position to read a book. That clever choreography around a single prop is like something Fred Astaire or Gene Kelly would have dreamed up.
The troupe also adds acrobatics to other athletic endeavours, notably skateboarding and basketball. Ultimately, though, the hybrids drop away to be replaced by the simpler excitement of watching some breathtaking stunts—in other words, pure circus. The climax involves a series of exuberant leaps and dives through an ever-growing tower of rings.
Traces has been kicking around for nearly a decade, played in some 200 cities and has become the signature work of 7 Fingers (known more colourfully in French as Les 7 Doigts de la Main). But the show still feels fresh, thanks partly to the fact that it’s tailored to the young artists currently performing it. Not too long ago, watching a bigger circus spectacle, this critic wondered cynically if its amazing acrobats were actually boring offstage—one-trick ponies who spent all their spare time perfecting their juggling or backflips. Traces refutes that notion; it suggests that its performers are complex people, just like you and me. Only way more flexible.