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Traces (**3/4) – This was supposed to be the way the world ends when Les 7 Doigts de la Main brought their highly developed circus skills and their snarling punk attitude to McGlohon Theatre in 2008. I hinted then in my review that the post-apocalyptic storyline described in the program ought to be bolstered with some palpable references from the actor/performers during the show. Traces was clocking at 80 minutes back then in its embryonic stage, so that kind of expansion wouldn't have hurt. But such trappings as exposition and plot – not to mention a beginning, middle, and end – must be anathema in the Cirque du Soleil capital where the troupe was born. Instead of fleshing out their tenuous storyline as the production evolved, 7 Fingers has tossed it away.
Vestiges of the original concept still appear when an old-timey microphone is lowered from the flyloft and the seven performers idiosyncratically talk about themselves. But up in New York at the grungy Union Square Theatre, we no longer imagine our protagonists as hibernating underground or their acrobatic acts as the last desperate expressions of a doomed race expiring beneath a nuclear winter. Sullen and resentful as they may remain, these performers are using the mic to talk to us, not some hidden overlord, and the concept – radically trimmed – is still "What are the Traces you'll leave behind?"
Although there has been a nearly complete turnover in personnel (only Bradley Henderson lingers on), directors Shana Carroll and Gypsy Snider never listened to me when I suggested that a couple of the segments, the Soleil-like exploits riding a steel ring and a Barnum & Bailey teeterboard throwback, are at cross-purposes with the individualism espoused by Traces. On the other hand, routines with a basketball, skateboard and rollerblades, swivel chairs, and a piano retain their uniqueness and justify the troupe's hauteur. They also jibe more effectively with the personal, confessional tone of the show. There's also a little voting shtick near the end, like the contestants of Dancing With the Stars or American Idol pimping themselves, that struck me as fresh and welcome.
You don't have to go to New York to determine whether the critics' raves are more just than my appraisal. It's headed down to Charleston for a five-day, six-performance engagement at Spoleto Festival USA on June 6-10. The show won't be quite as intimate an experience at Sottile Theatre, but the clash between the Sottile's art deco elegance and the Doigts' grubby orneriness ought to supply a special frisson that Traces hasn't had before.
Is it necessary to use curse language when reviewing a children's musical?