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"Traces" takes acrobatics to new heights

By Kristina Dorsey

Publication: The Day

Published May 02. 2013 4:00AM
The show's stunts and acrobatics are punctuated with music and storytelling.

Performing in "Traces" is not for wimps.

During the 90-minute show, performers fire off mind-bogging acrobatics.

One guy suspends upsidedown on a pole, hanging on only by wrapping his legs around the pole. He loosens legs and slides with lightning-fast speed down, head first, stopping himself just inches before hitting the floor.

A man holds his palms up next to his chest, and a woman stands with one foot on each of his hands. She jumps and executes a complete flip before landing, perfectly and precisely, with her soles back on his palms.

Of the seven high-flying, gravity-defying ensemble members, only one is female. Valérie Benoît-Charbonneau has been the sole woman in the cast since "Traces" for the past three years - which means that she's been there during its national and international tours, its off-Broadway run, its "America's Got Talent" results-show gigs, and its performance in front of England's Prince William and Kate.

But there's been some pain in the midst of all that fun and glory and stage derring-do. Benoît-Charbonneau broke her hand during a Chicago show. She was doing a big jump from one Chinese pole to another when it happened.

"I kind of dislocated my finger. I put it back, and I kept doing the show. ... You have this adrenaline rush, and you just keep going. I guess you don't really realize what's happening until the end," she says.

After that, though, she did take time to heal.

"It took, like, five weeks, but now I'm good," she says.

And, yes, Benoît-Charbonneau will be at the Garde Arts Center tonight when "Traces" lands there.

The stars of "Traces" are part of the Canadian troupe 7 Fingers (Les 7 Doigts de la Main), and its direction and choreography were created by Shana Carroll and Gypsy Snider.

When "Traces" was off-Broadway in 2011, Time named it one of the 10 best plays/musicals of the year. An Entertainment Weekly critic wrote that "'Traces' might be the most fun and memorable 90 minutes you have all year."

In addition to all the physical exploits, the performers take a few minutes for some other things during the show - playing instruments, singing love songs, telling jokes, talking about themselves.

But, yes, the stunts are at the heart of "Traces" - so much so that this group doesn't need to work out much offstage.

The 23-year-old Benoît-Charbonneau, who speaks in French-accented English, says, "The show is so intense we cannot train too much during the day because we need to keep our energy for the show at night. But we always come two hours earlier before the show to kind of warm up our bodies, to be together. Me and my partner, Mason (Ames), we are doing an acrobatic duet, and we always train, like, 30 to 40 minutes, just to be together and to have the good tempo."

The performers have had to develop a strong trust in each other. During the first six months of learning tricks, Benoît-Charbonneau says, they practiced a great deal and worked up from smaller tricks and lower altitudes to higher, bigger, and better accomplishments.

"Now, it's been almost 1,000 shows we did together, so we know each other so good when we're onstage," she says. "You know how the other person is going to react, and you know how the other cast members are there for you. It's a really nice relationship that you have with your coworkers."

Benoît-Charbonneau did gymnastics as a kid but was enraptured when she a circus-school show.

"I thought it was just such a great mix between the technical aspect but, at the same time, all the artistic (elements) - the dance, the acting. It's like a mix of all the arts that I always like," she says.

She auditioned at age 13 for the Montreal's National Circus School and ended up training there for seven years. Afterward, she performed in Cirque Eloize's iD, Cirque du Soleil's Viva Elvis and Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics.

And, now, she is touring with "Traces."

As for being the only female in the physically demanding "Traces," Benoît-Charbonneau says, "It's a great thing that I have to play. It's a great challenge to be the only woman, and the guys are really amazing performers and now they are great friends, too."

"Traces," 7:30 tonight, Garde Arts Center, 325 State St., New London; $39-$60; (860) 444-7373, gardearts.org.

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