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Theater review: 'Traces' at Ricardo Montalban Theatre [Updated]

January 18, 2011 |  9:30 am

Think Cirque du Soleil without the spandex.

In their high-voltage “Traces,” now at the Ricardo Montalbán Theatre, the members of the circus ensemble Seven Fingers vault, spin, torque and generally defy gravity. They also sing love ballads, crack jokes, flirt and spurn. Call it emo acrobatics.

CircleTracesDressed in street clothes and sneakers, the performers look like dancers gathering for a rehearsal, and their first gyrations feel more Twyla Tharp than Ringling Brothers. But working on a near-bare stage with a piano, chairs and two poles extending up to the catwalk, the group quickly creates a kinetic world where bodies fly and twist through the air, springing off each other in synchronized elation.

It’s a thrill to watch Florian Zumkehr, Xia Zhengqi and Mathieu Cloutier hurling themselves from one pole to another, dropping head first; but almost as fun is Mason Ames forming a human hoop, perched high for a game of pick-up basketball. The whip-fast Zhengqi juggles a diabolo (or three), twirling the spools on a string tied to two sticks. And Bradley Henderson, his body tensed inside a six-foot whirling ring, brings the house down as he loops upside and down like a giant spinning coin. Somewhere between your eye and your brain, logic gives up. There are some physics even Stephen Hawking can’t explain. [For the Record: An earlier version of this review incorrectly identified Philippe Normand-Jenny as the performer in the basketball game.]

Kids taking gymnastics, extreme sports fans and “So You Think You Can Dance” addicts will all find inspiration here, whether it’s the Parkour-style tumbling or a skateboard ballet to the tune of “It’s Only a Paper Moon.” (The majority of the feats are scored with high-decibel percussive techno music.)

ChairTracesBeyond the buoyant talent, the appeal of this Montreal-based troupe is its lack of pretension. Performers make mistakes and sweat right in front of you, which gives their unvarnished virtuosity all the more impact. (You’ll find yourself vowing to go back to yoga and nail that headstand.) Some of the more emotive moments don’t land -- it’s hard to buy angst in a show with so much physical joy. We discover more about these performers through their physicality rather than their words. A reality show-style elimination announcement near the show’s finale makes no real sense either, but it doesn’t matter: “Traces” has already left its mark.

-- Charlotte Stoudt

“Traces”: Ricardo Montalbán Theatre, 1615 Vine St., Hollywood. 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, 2  and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 1  and 6:30 p.m. Sundays. Ends Feb 20. $25-$69. Contact: (800) 982-2787 or Running time: 90 minutes.

Photos: Above, Bradley Henderson; below, Florian Zumkehr. Credit: Michael Meseke.