NYC Review/Traces
by Jeni Tu
November 29, 2001

New York is truly an embarrassment of riches when it comes to dance—and we, as dance editors, are so very lucky to live here—so I hope you will enjoy the occasional post from us about some of the shows passing through our city.

This weekend I saw two performances, one small and unheralded, and the other the sort of “must-see” that everyone has been buzzing about this season. Saturday night, I took in the former—a show put on by Montréal-based company 7 Doigts de la Main that showcased the seemingly boundless talents of five young performers who jumped through hoops, bounced off poles, danced, skateboarded, sang and played piano, among other things.

OK, so it was technically circus, not dance. But it’s been hard to ignore the blurring of the two genres over the past few years, as the level of athleticism and even acrobatic skill demanded by contemporary choreographers has slowly crept upward—and “aerial dance” troupes like NYC’s own Antigravity have enjoyed a moment in the sun. Hence, too, we have the controversy, everywhere from the concert stage to the competition scene, over “tricks” and whether they have a place in an artform that, for the most part, still emphatically thinks of itself as just that.

Traces, which opened at the handsome New Victory Theater in Times Square on February 8 and closes this Sunday, March 2, was enjoyable and even thrilling. The strongest sections were spectacles of audacity, as when the performers jumped between two vertical poles, alternately leaping from one to the other, hanging perpendicularly and surrendering themselves to gravity in death-defying, head-first slides toward the ground. The “ooh aah” factor was undeniable, especially for the little ones in the crowd.

But as the show lurched, at times, between a flimsy narrative frame (five people go stir-crazy while stuck in a bomb shelter) and the almost clinical execution of tricks, the dancer in me couldn’t help but wonder if I was peering into the future of dance, a future in which performances are reduced to high points of technical accomplishment strung together by a nominal storyline. Arguably, anyone who has been to a competition and watched a frighteningly proficient 8-year-old stop in her tracks to execute nine pirouettes would say we are already there. I hate to join the crotchety chorus, but where is the artistry?

Traces was not to be faulted, since it didn’t aspire to be dance, or perhaps even anything grandly artistic. And for all my renegade thoughts, I was charmed—by the performers’ genuineness even more than their considerable skills. Here were four immensely talented guys and one girl (Brad Henderson, Will Underwood, the brothers Francisco and Raphael Cruz and the piquant, pixie-haired Héloïse Bourgeois), all friends in real life, just messing around, daring themselves and each other to attempt the next feat, and the next. In that sense, the show had the pleasing air of a workshop or even rehearsal; more than anything, it was an intimate look at the performers’ creative process. There was a contagious joy in their experimentation. They were having fun, and that, sometimes, is the most important thing of all.

Click here to read what I thought of Diana Vishneva’s show the next day.

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