Five minutes into “Traces,” the man to my left shouted, “Shit!”
In the remaining 85 minutes of the acrobatics and dance infused production at the Cutler Majestic Theatre, the man would yell, “Damn! … Jesus! … No! … How?” As the seven artists dare-deviled about stage, his unbridled reactions weren’t the only exclamations to ring through the audience — waves of gasps, oohs, and aahs rose above the music and soundscape, before erupting into applause.
Set in a warehouse shelter, “Traces” challenges the audience to believe an apocalyptic catastrophe brews just outside the makeshift walls, sparking a bittersweet joie de vivre in the cast’s final fleeting moments of life. What unfurls is a hodgepodge of aerial stunts, gymnastics, skateboarding, and pirouetting.
To avoid the pitfalls of Cirque-inspired productions — anonymous acrobats, paper thin narratives, more glitz than heart — the members of troupe Les 7 Doigts de la Main (7 Fingers for brevity and stubborn English speakers) periodically press pause on the pulse-raising showcase to introduce themselves, their characteristics, their height, their weight, even their baby pictures. We learn one performer is afraid of spiders, and another doesn’t believe in love at first sight. One young man, Hou Kai, doesn’t speak English, another, Diego Rodarte-Amor, boasts his flirtatiousness. The sole lady in the crew, Naomie Zimmermann-Pichon, stands just over five feet, and flirtatious Diego describes himself as, “taller than the average Mexican.” The effect is that they transcend their roles as performers; you’ll see them as more than a mass of abs, quads, and glutes, and you’ll worry for them. When Fletcher Sanchez slid head first down a floor-to-ceiling Chinese pole, I let out out an expletive of my own. As he flexed his thighs just in time to brake his fall, I exhaled a sigh of relief. The man to my left gave me a nudge and giggled.
While the exuberant, awe-inspiring performance does lack some narrative strength — if you recommend the show to a friend, remind them to read the program beforehand — “Traces” never loses itself completely in the physicality. In fact, each episode of superhuman athletics, reveals a bit of humanity: naivety, boredom, competition, worry, love, anxiety, and, most often, joy. By the end of the show, the cast feels familiar, and the audience is rooting for them. On opening night, when Hou -– who is tasked with some of the most gut-wrenching feats — made a few failed attempts at launching himself through a totem pole of rings, the audience buoyed his morale with an overwhelming round of applause. It sent him soaring through the top ring, and he stuck a perfect 10 landing.