Aurora Centre, Burnside, Christchurch

05/09/2013 - 07/09/2013

TSB Showplace, New Plymouth

21/08/2013 - 24/08/2013

Opera House, Wellington

10/03/2008 - 16/03/2008

Regent Theatre, The Octagon, Dunedin

12/09/2013 - 14/09/2013

Christchurch Arts Festival 2013

Taranaki International Arts Festival 2013

New Zealand International Arts Festival

Production Details

This enchanting circus show from a troupe of young and exuberant performers mixes eye-popping acrobatic skills with so much more. Traces is a new style of athletic dance theatre, pulling circus out of the big top and transporting it to a highly theatrical context.

Traces begins with the five performers being hurled around the post-apocalyptic set by unseen forces. Time is running out. What will be their fate?

With precision acrobatic skills and a jet-propelled urban street energy, these artists segue effortlessly from one act to another, using anything and everything that comes to hand. From traditional Chinese circus techniques to freestyle moves, basketball to skateboarding, they soar, dance, somersault, jump, spring, balance and catapult in limitless variations, backed by visual projections. You’d swear they have wings, but then they can also play the piano like classical pros.

Traces will leave you breathless and wanting more, just as the countdown runs out … 

Francisco Cruz, Raphael Cruz, Brad Henderson and Will Underwood have known each other practically all of their lives. At the San Francisco Circus Center these boys trained alongside one another from ages eight to 18, in intensive Chinese acrobatic courses with former Nanjing Acrobatic Troupe director Master Lu Yi. The four boys spent their days in the circus gym perfecting uniquely Chinese disciplines such as hoop-diving, pole-climbing, and chair-balancing, as well as more traditional western circus skills as teeterboard and trampoline. When not in the circus gym they still “trained” alongside one another on the streets: skateboarding, playing basketball and doing graffiti. They performed together in local circus productions and went on the road from time to time.

In 2002 the four boys all moved across the continent to further their training at l’École Nationale de Cirque in Montreal, Canada. There they sharpened their circus techniques and acquired a few new ones, while equally honing their skills as dancers and actors. This is also where they met their future Tracescast member, Héloïse.

Unlike her west-coast colleagues, Héloïse Bourgeois hails from the other side of the Atlantic, born and raised in Paris, France. Her background is equally unique: 15 years of equestrian vaulting and 10 years of trampoline, both at internationally competitive levels, for which she received numerous awards. Complementing her rigorous sports training was seven years of ballet, as well as a university degree in natural science.

In the summer of 2004, Héloïse rounded up the four boys for a whirlwind tour of Europe under the name The Abandoned Acrobats. In just two months they performed 200 shows in seven countries, receiving the bronze and public awards at the Sol y Circofestival in Sylt, Germany.

In their last year of circus school the five-some grew even stronger as they polished their solo acts and simultaneously prepared a collective future for their fledgling troupe. Shortly after graduation they were integrated as the newest members of the 7 Fingers.

Regent Theatre 
12, 13 & 14 September 2013, 7.30pm

2013 tour

Mason Ames
Valérie Benoit-Charbonneau
Lucas Boutin
Mathieu Cloutier
Bradley Henderson
LJ Marles
Philippe Normand-Jenny  

1hr 20 mins, no interval

Funny, touching, joyous, beautiful, accessible, stunning …

Review by Patrick Davies 13th Sep 2013

What is in the Canadian waters? Robert Le Page, Cirque de Soleil and now to our shores comes Traces. Perfection. 

“Les 7 doigts de la main” is a play on a French saying “les cinq doigts de la main” – “five fingers of the hand”, whereby five separate parts combine, as in gestalt, to produce something greater than the sum of the parts; to be in a cohesive group towards one direction. What Dunedin witnessed last night was truly great. 

The company was founded 11 years ago with the purpose of bringing circus to the human scale. What Dunedin experienced last night was the most human of connections between performers, show, and themselves. As patrons left they were buzzing, smiling and nodding to each other in a shared space of happiness. It doesn’t get any better than that.

Traces deals with the affirmation of life, the marks we leave on other people, places and events that are particular to us. From the quirky, inviting topsy-turvy spin on the ‘cell phone’ announcement we are instantly drawn in by an invitation to a night of promised fun. And these guys deliver in truckloads.

Seven incredible performers introduce themselves and have a ridiculous amount of fun performing for us and with each other. There are the usuals you would expect from a circus show: tumbling, silks, balance, strength, etc. But the devising process, bringing each of the performers onstage rather than characters, combined with a huge postmodern range of influences (Robert Le Page, Pina Baush, Street, Hokusai, Busby Berkely, the list goes on and on), creates what the New York reviewer rightly claimed as “their own style”. 

It’s smart, sassy but never loses a celebratory feel. We are privileged to watch seven individuals who are a family – supportive and teasing – but we are not separate from them. We have been invited into their home and feel welcome, having been given the comfiest chair. They fling themselves around like kids in a playground; play the piano to accompany each other’s movement; join in each other’s skills and take time to watch each other display their particular skills. All this moves from one section to the other with complete ease, the story falls into the next phase as though they are waiting for Godot … Time to play. 

Traces takes place in a “make-shift shelter, with impending disaster looming outside the doors of tarp and gaffer tape.” A huge backdrop that looks like some kind of canvas, drying sheet, or protection from a work site, with a couple of scaff poles to swing on and jump between. The lights, never invasive, turn these set elements into textures, a projection screen, and delights-in-another-realm when a set piece moves into another space as ii the Chair and Silk sequences.

From start to finish the soundtrack hits the mark on every occasion. Chanteuse needed? You got it. A bit of classical here? Sweet? A Latin rhythm? No Probs. And it also smoothly melds from one to the other seamlessly.

On stage, Mason Ames, Valerie Benoit-Charboneau, Mathieu Cloutier, Brad Henderson, Lucas Boutin, Xia Zhengqi and Florian Zumkher astound and amaze. With a wide range of physicalities, personalities and wondrous skills, they are like some blended family gang and the joy they have with each other is palpable. The performances, being based on each of them, connects us to them in the easiest way. They are charming, utterly charming, and extremely talented.

At times their death defying antics draw sharp intakes of breath from all around (who needs coffee when these guys are around?). And under all of it is an incredible generosity of spirit; a humbleness They are not showing off, they are sharing what they can do with us.

The very real risk present on stage and a couple of mistakes (no ‘knowing nod’ to the audience, just a simple, honest get back on the horse) keep reminding us that this is not the saccharine, over-blown-in-comparison Cirque de Soleil (brilliant as their own work is); nor just Circus dressed up in nice cossies and lights. This endears us even more to the herculean feats accomplished by mere mortals and deservedly draws applause and a standing ovation as well.

Hats off to the Regent Theatre for bringing us such sublime fare outside of a festival. I hope they are rewarded by the public’s attendance, as they deservedly should be.

Just as you watch Fred and Ginger dance and wish you could dance like them,  you watch Traces and wish you had run away (with them) when you are a lad.

Funny, touching, joyous, beautiful, accessible, stunning … Words cannot accurately describe the experience, and I have spoken less about what actually happens than I usually would have; the joy is discovering what happens on that stage for yourself. As another patron remarked, “I could easily have watched another couple of hours of that.”


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A rare cool

Review by Signe Uldall Wiingaard and Ben Kennedy 06th Sep 2013

Traces is cool, a rare cool that can be appreciated by the facebook generation and conservative grandparents alike. It blends pop and urban culture with touching genuine emotions and does it at a hundreds miles an hour.  As the audience you are introduced to the performers and their quirky emotional traits which they somehow manage to express by flinging themselves around the stage whilst balancing various objects and each other on various parts of their bodies. The scene is city shelter and the cast a group of friends showing off and flirting, and it is hard not to be very impressed and to be somewhat seduced by this motley crew.

Each member has their own acrobatic performance and all leave their “trace”, but every member of the gang are always involved sewing the show together. The artists stay on stage casually sketching cityscapes on projectors, playing music and mischievously teasing one another enchanting the audience as they go. The real strength of the show lies in the acrobats’ charisma ad playfulness, and it is this that sets this performance apart from your usual Cirque de Soliel style show.

The show starts with tongue in cheek encouragement to the audience to use mobile phones, video cameras and visit the bathroom throughout the performance. A quip about emergency exits ad impending disaster was a bit close to the bone and raised a nervous chuckle from the Christchurch audience. However, the group were soon forgiven as they flipped around the stage setting the pace for a one and half hour rollercoaster ride of laughter, adrenalin and aesthetic enjoyment.

One of our favourite moments include a wonderfully wriggly scene, as the gorgeous female lead tries to get comfortable in a worn out armchair whilst absorbed in reading. Balancing a chair upside down on your bottom has never looked so cosy. Laughter also stirs as the team try to outdo each other with song renditions on the piano with variously comic results. Heart in the mouth moments keep the adrenaline running as acrobats leap and slide down fireman poles stopping themselves just as their nose reaches centimetres from the floor. And this of course is only one of many adrenalin moments, all involving different props such as skateboards, table chairs and ropes and all accompanied by the audiences’ cheers and outburst of thrill.

The finale provides the suitable crescendo as increasingly high rings are leapt through that leaves the audience no choice but a standing ovation. 


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Astounding pole work

Review by Lynn Freeman 19th Mar 2008

However you dress up the modern day circus, with lavish sets and somewhat tenuous but charming storylines, with loud pumping music and audio visuals, we are there for the jaw-dropping feats of genius. 

There are plenty of these in Traces, and we are reminded how devilishly hard many of them are by the fact on opening night a there were a few second goes, even a third for the finale. 

That’s fine, the crowd was right there with them encouraging them on. 

Here we have performers in their twenties who are exceptional athletes.  The conceit is that they’re living together in a grungy kind of space, a little Big Brotherish as they introduce themselves to us and interact with each other. 

The sections in between the performances are a little wearisome at times, but you can’t begrudge them a chance to catch their breath.  The vertical pole work is astounding, the flying through hoops equally so. 


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Thoroughly entertaining excellence with heart

Review by John Smythe 12th Mar 2008

The idea is that the end of the world is nigh. Cheerful lot, Les 7 Doigts de la Main. In La Vie, the company’s other show at this fest, everyone is already dead and so are we, which brings a timeless, dreamlike quality to that ‘living dead in limbo’ show. But Traces has much more urgency to it.

Performed by five multi-skilled performers in their mid-20s, they declare themselves – their provenance, vital stats, distinguishing strengths and weaknesses – and play hard, burning off all their energy while it still has value, in the hope (as I see it) that their extraordinary actions will leave traces in the spaces left behind.

Before the show, as we wait in our seats, we see each other arriving via surveillance-cam, thrown live in black and white onto the tattered remnant of military tarpaulin that hangs across the back of the stage: a derelict space with the odd sign of habitation (designed by Flavia Hevia with the company, and lit by Nol Van Genuchten). Intriguingly, only a child spies the camera and waves. Across the bottom of the tarp, a digital time-code counts us down in real time … To what? The beginning of the end?

It’s both fun and perturbing to be told by the voice of Doom that we can leave our cell phones on and indulge in potentially fatal flash photography – and it’s a compliment to be seen as having the wit not to take the message literally.

The initial rush on to the stage of the five – Héloïse Bourgeois, Francisco Cruz, Raphael Cruz, Brad Henderson and Will Underwood – suggests they are heading off the inevitable. In what looks like a dance of random abandon (but of course it is tightly choreographed) they leap, lift, toss and roll as if there is no tomorrow.

This is what we get when performers, circus-trained from childhood, dance: highly-developed core strength, balancing and contortion skills. A pas-de-deux between Héloïse and Will is at once dangerous yet intimate and mutually respectful without a hint of sweet romance. Most of them play piano too – a battered box-wood grand – and the way they fool around with a basket ball and on skateboards; the way they chuck chairs … Is there anything they can’t do superbly?

There’s an old school desk where each of them takes a moment to write, to leave some other trace of their being, projected by OHP onto the tarp. And still the countdown continues, as we hear an announcement about nuclear tests in Mururoa … ‘Dead’ bodies are traced in chalk … There is a riff on time as well … These elements ensure the show is more than just a display of skills.

When the brothers Cruz – Francisco and Raphael – get acrobatic together, blending serious intent with touches of clowning, a tinge of sibling rivalry adds ginger to their already astonishing acts. When Héloïse takes to a battered armchair to read a book amid the apparent chaos, her quest for escape gives her extraordinary interactions with the chair, that seems to have a mind of its own, a point of connection we can all relate to.

Perhaps they are also seeking escape when they shin up two vertical poles … Their individual and collective dexterity, and inventiveness in this sequence is truly astonishing. Just when you think the ultimate has been displayed, another variation springs/ swings/ dives to make us gasp. Their trust in themselves, as they slide floor-ward relying on their own leg brakes, is one thing but her trust in the boys when she falls backward from the top of a pole is something else. Salutary.

As if to answer my silent "how do you follow an act like that?" Brad does things with and within a large metal hoop that totally defy belief. Héloïse lets memories of her father, who died when she was 13, send her spinning skyward in a flimsy red dress …

Then suddenly we are told this is the last week on ‘Infinity House’, a reality show concept we instantly recognise, except this time the means of eviction for all but one is a teeterboard (a.k.a. see-saw), jumped on from a great height to send the evictees back-flipping to oblivion – well, on to a high mat. Brilliant.

An alarm, siren and searchlights herald the finale: a classic ring-diving act that hails back to the boys’ early training in Chinese acrobatics (at the San Francisco Circus Centre; Héloïse trained separately in France). The theatrical structure is perfect, enrolling us in a clear understanding of how truly astonishing – beyond belief – their abilities are. For a moment it seems anything is possible and all is well with the world …  

But no, they go – into the foyer and desiccated obliteration. Except of course it’s all been a game and they take their multiple curtain calls like the troupers they are.

Need I add that this show is as appropriate for children as La Vie is not? The ‘end of the world’ aspect is not scary, it just gives the show a context, urgency and immediacy that kids will happily tune into. Given the rigour, integrity and thoroughly entertaining excellence of both La Vie and Traces, Les 7 Doigts de la Main has proved to be a reliable brand, with heart.


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A circus for everyone

Review by Jennifer Shennan 12th Mar 2008

This show is a fast and full- on fantastic fun-time for families and friends, lovers and the young-at-heart. Chinese acrobatics, equestrian vaulting, skateboarding, pole climbing, hoop diving and smart fast ball games are only the start of it. All of these fabulous acts are delivered as enormously impressive teamwork, by four super-strong guys and one little dynamo of a lady who wins all their hearts, and ours too. [More]


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