Heroic Clowns Face Love, Apocalypse in Gritty ‘Traces’: Review

Mason Ames and Valerie Benoit-Charbonneau in "Traces" at the Union Square Theatre in New York. The urban circus show is running through Oct. 9. Photographer: Michael Meseke/HartmanGroup P.R. Via Bloomberg

“Traces” is circus arts on a heroic scale.

It’s terrific: Ninety minutes of high-impact flying through the air, often in what seemed like slo-mo. Add to that, feats of strength notable for the grace and beauty of their execution and a memorably intimate yet innuendo-free duet.

I am constitutionally immune to circuses masquerading as art. The provenance of “Traces,” which is running at New York’s Union Square Theatre, only increased my skepticism. It’s the work of Les 7 Doigts de la Main/7 Fingers, a Montreal-based troupe.

Isn’t that where Cirque du Soleil comes from?

“Traces” is the anti-Cirque -- small, intimate and without the horrible ear-splitting music. The stage and part of the orchestra are draped in khaki material, lit by traffic lights and street lamps to suggest a midnight impromptu on a shadowy corner in Hell’s Kitchen before the place got gentrified.

After a tumbling introduction featuring all seven members, Mason Ames, the biggest man in the company, and Valerie Benoit-Charbonneau, the only woman, perform an extended pas de deux. It’s as much a dance as it is a series of flights and flips of breathtaking athleticism.

It’s also a testament to the fathomless trust required of partners who put their lives in each other’s hands with every astonishing move as they toss each other around, she landing inevitably on his shoulders or his head -- and not always right-side up.

Like Cats

The others are similarly expert. One minute they’re climbing a pair of poles like cats. Then they’re the Harlem Globetrotters passing a basketball with speed, humor and music.

Moreover, they are telling a compelling story, as the title suggests, of needing to leave their mark on a dehumanizing world.

Through Oct. 9 at 100 E. 17th St. Information: +1-800-982-2787; http://www.ticketmaster.com. Rating: ***

What the Stars Mean:
****        Do Not Miss
***         Excellent
**          Good
*           Average
(No stars)  Not Good

(Jeremy Gerard is an editor and critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

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