Save Money in this Sunday's paper

comments

Going in circles to thrill a crowd

More Information

  • PREVIEW

    ‘Traces’

    The combination of theater, dance and circus returns to Charlotte after five years, bigger than before.

    WHEN: Tuesday-May 19; 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 1:30 p.m. Sunday. Also 7 p.m. May 12. The May 12 matinee is audio-described.

    WHERE: Knight Theater, 430 S. Tryon St.

    TICKETS: $20-$104.50.

    DETAILS: 704-372-1000; www.carolinatix.org.



Unlike most of us, Brad Henderson gets pleasure and profit from going in circles.

The small circle is a literal one: A metal ring about 6 feet in diameter, in which he plants himself onstage and rolls around by a rare act of strength and coordination.

The big circle is metaphoric. It’s the path of “Traces,” the theater-dance-circus extravaganza that had a stunning six-week run in 2008 at Charlotte’s McGlohon Theater and now returns up the street – bigger, longer and reportedly more exotic than ever – for a two-week stay at Knight Theater, starting Tuesday.

Only Henderson has made the show’s whole seven-year journey: through a triumphant debut overseas, in a New York run that made Time magazine call “Traces” one of the top 10 entertainment events of the year, onto the U.S. tour that had him performing in a 3,000-seat L.A. venue last week and wishing for more intimate confines. (“Traces” was in Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, the Academy Awards’ former home.)

The show, designed by the Montreal company 7 Fingers of the Hand, started with five actors and now has seven.

They use skateboards, furniture, stacked rings and other props to put on a show that creator Shana Carroll once described as extensions of everyday movement – if, say, you and I could slide down a pole face-first at top speed, catching ourselves just before we turned our mugs to mush.

“We all loved playing basketball as kids, so when we created the basketball number, we copied the moves we’d seen on TV and added a circus touch,” says Henderson, who’s 29. “Not a ton of people can do what we do, because the technique is high. But the essence is the same.

“In traditional circus, you can see a trick coming and enjoy the build-up. Here you don’t know when or how the tricks are going to happen.”

Carroll wanted an amalgam of styles, different from her Cirque du Soleil background. So actors incorporate dance and address the crowd, sharing real names and bits of biography. (“Doing a double flip and landing on their head was no trouble,” she once said to me. “But saying a line? That made them nervous.”)

Henderson recalls his three months of preparation for the first show: “We were crappy actors, OK dancers and good acrobats. So during that time, we didn’t work on tricks. We just worked on our acting. We did exercises to find out what made us vulnerable onstage, (because) that made us interesting. It’s not impressive to just watch trick after trick.

“Shana and (co-director) Gypsy Snider said, ‘If you make a little mistake, play on that.’ So on the last trick, if we knock over the hoops we’re jumping through, we just do it again. People ask, ‘Was that planned?’ No, it wasn’t.”

The show has more polish than ever, because experts have honed it: Henderson admits that “before, we weren’t very good at the teeterboard, but now we have a guy who made it his specialty. Another guy has trained with an aerial apparatus, so that’s new to the show. But the skeleton of the show has stayed the same.”

Henderson and his cohorts keep the show fresh by adding bits, especially when they have two weeks (as they do here) to relax and experiment. The rule, he says, is that if an artist can do something 10 times out of 10, it goes in.

Henderson, who’s scheduled to leave in September, has missed just three shows in seven years. Incredibly, the troupe doesn’t travel with understudies. Former actors must be summoned quickly, if they’re not busy elsewhere.

“Somebody’s always getting a little injury,” he says. “That changes the show a bit, there’s a snowball effect, and others get injured as well. Mason (Ames), a big guy who’s always catching people, just came back from getting his meniscus (in his knees) done.

“I could do the wheel for 20 years, because it doesn’t have a big impact on my body. Before, I used to do a lot of pole climbing; that requires upper body strength, and I cut back on that. I still do a lot of tumbling and stay limber – although, on vacation in Palm Springs last week, I met a chiropractor at the hot tub. In exchange for cracking my neck, he got tickets to the show.”

Toppman: 704-358-5232
Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

The Charlotte Observer welcomes your comments on news of the day. The more voices engaged in conversation, the better for us all, but do keep it civil. Please refrain from profanity, obscenity, spam, name-calling or attacking others for their views.

Have a news tip? You can send it to a local news editor; email local@charlotteobserver.com to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Charlotte Observer.

  Read more



Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

The Charlotte Observer welcomes your comments on news of the day. The more voices engaged in conversation, the better for us all, but do keep it civil. Please refrain from profanity, obscenity, spam, name-calling or attacking others for their views.

Have a news tip? You can send it to a local news editor; email local@charlotteobserver.com to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Charlotte Observer.

  Read more


Quick Job Search
Salary Databases
Your 2 Cents
Share your opinion with our Partners
Learn More