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‘Traces’ soars and swoops once again

By Lawrence Toppman
Lawrence Toppman
Lawrence Toppman is a theater critic and culture writer with The Charlotte Observer.

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  • Review


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

    WHEN: Tuesday through May 19 at 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. on May 12. May 12 matinee will be audio-described.

    WHERE: Knight Theater, 430 S. Tryon St.

    RUNNING TIME: minutes.

    TICKETS: $20-$104.50.

    DETAILS: 704-372-1000,

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

“Traces” is ostensibly based on extensions of everyday human movement, and I was good with that idea right up through the first nine seconds of the show.

As soon as somebody started a parkour spin around one of two tall metal poles, I realized again that only extraordinary circus-dance skills would allow anyone to pull these moves off, and the seven-person cast has them.

If you saw “Traces” at McGlohon Theater in 2008, you need no encouragement to see it again, though it’s only slightly longer – about 80 minutes with no intermission – and only slightly re-designed, as far as I could tell.

I didn’t recall the camera in the ceiling, which projected views from above on a screen at the rear of the Knight Theater stage. I remembered the dazzling opening duet for a man and woman, in which modern dance and gymnastics blend seamlessly, but not the subsequent hint of a romantic tie between the two. (Valérie Benoît-Charbonneau and Philippe Normand-Jenny got “Traces” off to a fine start Tuesday night.)

As far as plots go, hints are all you’ll get. The pulsing soundtrack and voice-over by a newscaster suggests that the seven are holed up in a safe area while violence rages outside. There’s even a bizarre interlude in which we’re encouraged to vote by phone (not really), because one of the seven may be killed later.

That’s all irrelevant to the magnificence of the stunts, which can be as simple as a character wrestling with a recalcitrant easy chair or complex as a skateboard ballet.

At times, everyone demonstrates virtuosity: All seven work wonders on the poles, including a face-downward plunge stopped without use of the arms. Sometimes one stands out: Bradley Henderson, aged veteran of the cast at 29, rolls through a dreamlike solo inside a huge wheel.

The interludes in which performers play piano or sing a number or speak briefly about themselves work best as breathers for the performers or down times between highlights for the audience. None of these bits of humor or intimacy remain in memory alongside the whimsically deft basketball exhibition or heroics on the teeterboard.

As before, a dazzling series of leaps through a tall stack of rings closes the show. And for the first time, I felt a nostalgic twinge for the old “Traces.”

This show has such a gloss of perfection that I couldn’t conceive of someone missing a trick, keying himself up again and then doing it right, which happened once or twice at McGlohon.

These acrobats hurl themselves through the rings as if failure were impossible to imagine. It may be ungrateful to complain about perfection, but that seemed just a bit inhumanly brilliant to me.

Toppman: 704-358-5232
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