TAMPA — Seven Fingers, the Montreal-based troupe behind Traces, has as its goal to bring circus to a "human scale."
And that they have done. In Traces, which opened Tuesday at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts, the company members dress in grayish more-or-less street clothes, instead of the garish spangled tights of the circus or the mystical disguises of Cirque du Soleil. They introduce themselves to the audience by name and they provide their birthdates and a few personality traits.
But a little more spectacle and little less humanity might actually have helped. Traces has a lot of stunning acrobatics and graceful, whimsical modern dance, but it also has an awful lot of long dry stretches, filled with moves you've seen many times before. And its set and costumes are visually tedious.
As in Cirque du Soleil shows, Traces has a plot line that audiences probably won't care about, or even discern unless they do research. In this case, it has something to do with seven people trapped inside a bunker while some kind of apocalypse is happening outside. The set is the color of ashes, and the performers wear charcoal business suits and white shirts.
The 90-minute show is episodic. An early dance piece, very pretty and punctuated by gasp-inducing acrobatic moments, is followed by an interminable segment in which the cast members toss around a basketball for no apparent reason. There's an astounding passage in which the cast performs gorgeous, daring and seemingly superhuman moves on poles, high above the stage, and an incongruous passage in which one cast member strums a guitar and sings a love song that isn't very good. That's actually the only weak music in the entire show, though. Several cast members play credibly, and the recorded backing tracks, mostly with pop and electronica flavoring, sound great and serve as excellent complements to the physical performances.
Perhaps the most thoroughly entertaining bit is a pure dance piece in which Valerie Benoit-Charbonneau — the only woman in the seven-person cast — dances in, on, under and with a recliner chair, remaining engrossed in the book she's reading the entire time.
Benoit-Charbonneau's expressiveness as a dancer — she even draws laughs with her toes — is evident in a couple of pieces. But the entire cast is her equal, performing flawless and consistently physical and graceful work in both dance and acrobatic segments.
The scattered technical glitches during Tuesday's performance are certainly forgivable. The dreadfully uninteresting sets and costumes (there are only a couple of splashes of color in the entire show) and the long passages of unimaginative work are harder to ignore.
Overall, Traces succeeds in entertaining, astounding and amusing. But its best moments, including some beautiful acrobatics and a very funny curtain speech that opens the show, promise a bit more.