Traces is the “new” kind of circus
By Caroline Shannon-Karasik
Ever tried to hula-hoop?
You know those oversized plastic toy rings that are twirled around the waist, hips, neck … heck, whatever limb it can fit around? It was so popular in the 1950s that it resulted in the hula-hoop’s induction into the National Toy Hall of Fame in 1999.
So, back to the original question: Have you ever tried to hula-hoop? It looks easy enough, and people who are good at it surely look jovial while swaying their hips in a circle, arms splayed awkwardly in the air, expressions on their faces that say “Look! Look-y at what I can do!”
But for those who have given the hula-hoop a solid shot, it’s no secret that the art of maintaining an even pace and keeping that sucker spinning — well, it’s really quite difficult.
So, one can imagine it’s very hard when witnessing a man standing inside an oversized version of a hula-hoop and spinning, twisting and turning within it. Throw in a couple of leg lifts, jumps and flips and it’s safe to say jaws will hit the floor.
Sound impossible? You bet. But for the cast of the off-Broadway show Traces, it’s nothing short of a typical day.
“Traces, like all shows by our company, 7 Fingers, is first and foremost what we like to call an intimate circus experience,” said Gypsy Snyder, co-director and choreographer of the show. “All our shows use thematics based on the human condition, emotions and ideas. That is why Traces is called ‘circus on a human scale.’”
And “the humans” are absolutely invited when the company brings their performance to the Victoria Theatre, December 6 through December 18.
“To be honest, Traces is one of the most fun shows I have ever done because the artists get to do the whole show,” said performer Francisco Cruz. “Also, to have the opportunity to portray yourself is very rare and not something I’ve done in any other show. It’s an incredible feeling when audience members get to know who you are and even start yelling your name by the end.”
Snyder and co-director and choreographer Shana Carroll definitely designed the show with the entertainment of the audience in mind. Fusing the traditions of circus with the energy of street performance, Traces touches on classic theater roots linked with a circus-esque state of mind.
After co-founding 7 Fingers in 2002, Snyder began to dig into her roots to derive inspiration for the shows’ performances. Born into the circus ring, as daughter of the founders of San Francisco’s Pickle Family Circus, Snyder began her artistic career at age 4 and has been performing ever since. A graduate of Switzerland’s Scuola Teatro Dimitri, Snyder performed three seasons with La Compagnia Dimitri. She later went on to perform internationally with well-known companies like Cirque du Soleil, Cirque Knie, Pomp Duck and Circumstance and Teatro Zinzanni.
“I grew up in the circus, but my passion has always been the theatre,” Snyder said. “So even though circus has been my life, I have always strived to blend the two and to touch people with the circus in a very emotional way. The 7 Fingers are very passionate about so many different mediums and art forms and even though we do not consider what we do as theatre or as dance, we love to express ourselves through movement and theatrical situations.”
Set on a stage modeled to look like a run-down warehouse, Traces features seven performers (one female and six males) as they perform acrobatic acts, according to the show’s website. The different skits use a variety of props such as skateboards, basketballs and Chinese yo-yos. The performance also includes stylized dance and gymnastic moves.
“The acrobats wear very normal street clothing, no fancy costumes or spandex,” Snyder said. “The set is almost nonexistent. The lighting is really only there to enforce the artists’ presence on stage. And even though Traces is a high-level circus show the audience feels as though the performers are just normal everyday people.”
Snyder said there is also a microphone on stage and each performer comes forward and speaks to the audience, introducing and sharing their birthdays, height and weight, and what they like and don’t like. As if to answer the question, “If the world ended tomorrow, what would you leave behind?” the performers also confess their fears and ambitions.
“The real purpose in this is to develop a very simple, but real relationship between the artist and the audience. It is very un-guarded and un-pretentious,” Snyder said. “The audience associates themselves with the people on stage in a way we are not normally used to in the theatre. This lack of tension during these spoken scenes creates a much larger tension when the performer actually does the very dangerous circus tricks.”
Cruz said that “risk factor” is, in addition to the personal touches, what the audiences love most about the performances.
“We’re real people on stage who do more than just the tricks,” Cruz said. “People can identify with Traces in that we grew up with some of the same things as they have, have some of the same personality traits, and like some of the same things.
“We go for it every show and give it our all, and people not only love it, but they also respect it. Sometimes, the tricks don’t go right and we make a mistake, and instead of trying to mask it, we’ll try it again. I think this shows the audience that we’re human, and the point isn’t to be perfect, but if you fall, it is OK to try again.”
And Cruz said with the number of stunts that are included in the show, it’s that ability to shrug off a mistake and move on that surely makes the show flow seamlessly.
“I’ve done the acrobatics before for various other shows, but never so much in the same show,” he said. “The stunts are always fun because every audience is new and it’s the first time they’ve seen it.
“We have a very good team as well. We like to push ourselves and we support each other to try harder and harder tricks. It definitely helps when everyone on stage is there for you when you’re trying your most difficult tricks.”
The show has received some serious media buzz, including a feature on America’s Got Talent and The Wendy Williams Show, in addition to praise from Entertainment Weekly, who called the show “pulse-pounding.”
Snyder said “unimaginable” is not even the proper word to describe the success of Traces thus far. In fact, the show itself is exactly what she envisioned all along.
“I not only imagined it [a show like Traces], I dreamed of it every night and worked at it every day,” Snyder said. “I am so proud that all these years of work and taking risks and trying new things has brought me to creating the 7 Fingers with six other equally passionate circus performers and directors.
“We are all so excited that Traces is where it is and that it touches the audience the way it does. And I have a feeling the possibilities for this kind of performance are so infinite that this is just the beginning.”
If this is just the beginning, then it can be easily assumed that it’s safe to put that hula- hoop aside. Seriously — don’t even bother trying to compete. Because this cast has its act nailed down to circus perfection.
Reach DCP freelance writer Caroline Shannon-Karasik at CarolineShannonKarasik@DaytonCityPaper.com.