NZ Arts Festival 2008, Opera House
March 10-16 | Reviewed by Shruti Navathe

ONE OF THE first things that caught my attention as I took my seat at the opening performance of Traces at The Opera house, Wellington was the image projected behind the stage set up. I’d noticed a video camera with some trepidation as I entered the hall (I have an abiding dislike of CCTVs) and it was comforting to realise that the camera was projecting onto the screen inside as part of the performance, and not as part of Kerry Prendergast’s panoptic plan to keep the riff-raff out of the festival.

Traces was set in a roughly constructed shelter of some sort where the five survivors strove to use their bodies, voices, intellects and souls to leave an impact on the world. Presumably they were riding on the knowledge that some impending disaster loomed and their lives were on borrowed time. To this end the entire performance was aimed at giving the audience a sense of each person’s character and personality and to present the acrobatics within the framework of humanity. In other words the acrobatics weren’t just visual callistheics but yet another window into each performer’s world.

Without giving away the show, in the hour and twenty minute performance the performers managed to display their skills with hand to hand acrobatics, skateboarding, the single wheel, poles and a whole lot more besides. My personal favourite was the basketball sequence in which the five performers wove in and out, passing flawlessly, moving gracefully and still managing to have fun. That’s what good dancing and good basketball is supposed to look like.

The choreography of the entire performance was impeccable. Shana Carroll and Gypsy Snider did well to vary to mood of the performance so that each shift stood out and commanded attention without exhausting the emotional energies of the audience all at once. The first pas de deux between Will Underwood and Héloïse Bourgeois was particularly moving; both performers did well to convey the tensions between them. The choreography also nicely balanced the opportunities for each performer to demonstrate their forte, and in many pieces success depended entirely on perfect timing between the performers.

The music by the team at Les 7 Doigts de la Main was varied and well attuned to the changes in pace and mood within the performance. Likewise the lighting design served to enhance mood and emphasise dramatics. Credit is also due to the set designers Flavia Hevia, Manon Desmarais and Les 7 Doigts de la Main for giving a sense of ad hoc flexibility that was also echoed in the costume design.

If there was a weakness in the show it was in the theatrical aspects: the concept felt a bit forced. What really came through for me and won the support and response from the audience was the energy of the performers and the rapport between them. That, and the gravity defying acrobatics!