Would that I were a talented enough writer to pen this review of Les 7 doigts de la main’s Traces without referencing Cirque du Soleil. I have little doubt that most, if not all, reviews of Traces — or any of Les 7 doigts de la main’s other shows — call out Cirque, and color me contrary, but I’d love to be the exception to the rule. Unfortunately, as I am not some Shelley-ian creation with the sagacity of Plato, the wit of Shakespeare and the rhythmic sense of Chaucer, that ain’t gonna happen.
Les 7 doigts de la main translates as “The seven fingers of the hand” and is a play on an old French idiom about disparate parts coming together to work toward a common goal. Either that, or it’s really the punch line to a filthy French joke on par with The Aristocrats. After all, which of the non-French speakers among you could say for sure? In the interest of brevity, Les 7 doigts de la main shall hereafter be referred to as 7 Fingers for the duration of this humble review. Both 7 Fingers and Cirque du Soleil are modernizations and reinterpretations of the circus. Both were formed in Montreal, Quebec, and as one might expect based on that fact, both organizations possess a notably French-Canadian worldview and aesthetic. 7 Fingers and Cirque du Soleil shows focus on acrobatic derring-do as a means to simultaneously entertain and challenge the audience. Neither outfit uses animals (other than humans) in their productions.
I have been lucky enough to have seen 10 different Cirque shows over the past 14 years or so. Some left me speechless while others merely impressed, but all were singularly positive experiences. After seeing 7 Fingers’ Traces, I cannot emphasize enough that it is not Cirque-lite — though it is performed in smaller venues and with fewer accoutrements. Nor is it the answer to what some would perceive as Cirque’s overly flamboyant hyper-theatricality — though it is decidedly more grounded and far less embellished. Despite the many similarities, Traces shows 7 Fingers to be a truly distinct, fully evolved variation on a similar theme, and though I have loved Cirque for well over a decade, I will be counting the days until the next 7 Fingers production rolls into Denver.
Traces features seven artists — all born in the 1980s if memory serves — performing individually and in any number of grouped permutations. They tumble, dance, embrace, shove, scamper, climb, flip, slide, roll and glide all with boundless enthusiasm and energy. The opening number, set to VAST’s “Touched,” introduces the artists and establishes the show’s loose, Earthy vibe. Soon after, a wordless bit featuring one of the men and the only woman in the troupe depicts the arc of a relationship with more emotional vitality and veracity than I’ve seen in any medium in ages.
Skateboard trickery arrives set to 1930s-era music. All seven daredevils crisscross the stage as they leap through rings seemingly too high and too small to allow passage. A La-Z-Boy (or perhaps a less iconically branded easy chair) becomes a dance partner as the artist clowns with it around the stage, sitting on its every possible surface. My only moment of disappointment came after we were told that one of the artists would now sing a “French song,” and it turned out not to be “FrÃ¨re Jacques.” (Come on, you have to admit that would have been pretty funny.)
If you enjoy precision acrobatics, free-flowing, dance-inspired movement and genuine commitment from a set of performers, Traces is calling your name. If you’ve ever wondered what a Cirque show might be like if scaled down and stripped of its over-the-top production design, buy a ticket today. Even if you haven’t set foot in a theater or under a big top since you were 5 years old, I can all but guarantee that you’ll walk out of the Denver Center after a showing of Traces with the goofiest of grins on your face. Trust me, this is one not to miss.
On the Bill
Traces plays through May 14 at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, 1101 13th Street in downtown Denver. Tickets are $10 to $65. For tickets or information, call 303-893-4100 or visit www.denvercenter.org.