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. Its the path of Traces, the theater-dance-circus extravaganza that had a stunning six-week run in 2008 at Charlottes 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 shows 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 wed seen on TV and added a circus touch, says Henderson, whos 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 dont 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 didnt 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. Its 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 were jumping through, we just do it again. People ask, Was that planned? No, it wasnt.
The show has more polish than ever, because experts have honed it: Henderson admits that before, we werent 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 thats 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, whos scheduled to leave in September, has missed just three shows in seven years. Incredibly, the troupe doesnt travel with understudies. Former actors must be summoned quickly, if theyre not busy elsewhere.
Somebodys always getting a little injury, he says. That changes the show a bit, theres a snowball effect, and others get injured as well. Mason (Ames), a big guy whos always catching people, just came back from getting his meniscus (in his knees) done.
I could do the wheel for 20 years, because it doesnt 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.
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