The show: "Traces," part of the International Festival of Arts & Ideas, at University Theatre in New Haven.
What makes it special?: The return of a touring favorite from the hot Candian company, Les 7 Doigts de la Main (7 Fingers)
First impressions: Think all cirque acts are ethereal, abstract and anonymous? Think again. In "Traces," a young and energetic ensemble of five male and one female performers redefine the cirque art form in a fast-paced, sexy, emotionally-connected, character-driven show that simply bursts with the kinetic spirit of play. So long, Soleil. Meet the new kids on the cirque block.
What's it about? Does it have a story?: There's no traditional narrative but you quickly gleam that — finding themselves in this raw, perhaps futurist, perhaps ominious space — this young group of hyper-kinetic and thoroughly engaging youths (several were born during ther Clinton administration) decides to make the most of it and just embrace life and each other and play. Think of it as apocalyptic recess.
With a hip, driving musical score, they tumble, leap, flip, and swing all over the stage, defying convention, mortality and gravity.
We also quickly get to know who they are because they tell us outright — it's even spelled out for us in projections. We find out their names, their ages and stats, their likes, moods and fears. We also see their personalities — and relationships — emerge through their movements, attitudes and interactions. Mostly it's school yard dynamics — kidding, challenging, taunting, seemingly improvisatonal — but there's a bit of romance, too. (Renaldo Williams Naomie Zimmermann-Pichon have a sensual and athletic pas de deux that will have you sighing — and gasping.)
Just one woman?: Not to worry. Zimmerman-Pichon shows enough confident girl power to match these alpha men, while being true to her own completely female self.
What keeps the action compelling is how the company uses everything in their theatrical toy box: shadow play, videography, playing the piano and guitar, creating artwork, turning basketball into ballet, an upholstered chair into an extension of self, and gliding dreamily on skateboards to "It's Only a Paper Moon." (Bliss.)
A mesmerizing Mathieu Cloutier will give you hoop dreams, LJ Marles lulls you into a world of flight and Fletcher Sanchez will make you flip almost as much as he does. A lithe Lucas Boutin makes everything he does look effortless and magical.
Any reservations?: Though not so crazy about the vague disconnected title. (It also missed in naming its other festival show "Sequence Eight." Clearly they have branding issues.) And though the narrative is implied more than spelled out, more consistency in story structure and character development could deepen the experience. (Certainly, Les 7 Doigts showed how cirque could be integrated in the terrific Broadway revival of "Pippin." I look forward to seeing where the expansion of the form will take them.)
Who will like it?: Those who like very physical theater.
Who won't?: If you just don't like cirque skills, physically fit performers or rock and rap scores, stay on the couch.
For the kids?: Without a doubt. Just tell the young ones that it's not like Ringling Brothers and that there will be some quieter moments where they should just be still and watch and be amazed.
Twitter review in 140 characters or less: High velocity art.
Thoughts in leaving the parking lot?: This is the third time I've see this show, after taking in the off-Broadway run and an engagement at the Bushnell in Hartford. Though the staging by the extraordinary Shana Carroll and Gypsy Snider is the same, it remains fresh each time due to the personalities of the performers. This one's a winner.
The basics: The show plays at the theater at 222 York St., in downtown New Haven. The show continues Thursday and Friday at 8, and Saturday at 1 and 5 p.m. Running time is 90 minutes with no intermission. Tickets are $35/$65. General admission. Student, senior and youth discounts available. Information: http://www.artidea.org.
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