Looking for relief — or escape — from a material world that seems to be crumbling around us? Traces, the Canadian import onstage at Spirit Square through Nov. 16, isn't offering jokey escapism or sugary solace. As best they can — through set design, live and pre-recorded video and massive dollops of what-the-fuck attitude — the Les 7 Doigts de la Main company from Montreal transforms McGlohon Theatre into a post-apocalyptic hellhole.
The quintet of performers in this grungy bunker fend off despair in the aftermath of catastrophe, calling upon their creative talents and impulses to leave traces of themselves before they perish. Or so we're told in the program notes. Raphael Cruz, Heloise Bourgeois, Will Underwood, Francisco Cruz and Brad Henderson never elucidate their plight -- or even refer to this catastrophe -- though they extensively introduce themselves.
I'll admit to missing that good old-fashioned exposition sported by most theatrical productions. Nor do Les 7 Doigts offer more than the slightest lip service to such storytelling anchors as a beginning, middle and end.
They merely dazzle us for the better part of 80 minutes with a breathtaking barrage of acrobatics, music and dance. Stylistically, Traces struck me as the unlikely marriage of Cirque de Soleil and Spring Awakening. The flashy colors, bigtop scale and Euro cabaret babble of the big Cirque extravaganzas have all been cast aside, replaced by hard rock raucousness, urban hip-hop and purest punk. Anybody wearing a color in this show would risk a firing squad, and when Raphie sings a ballad, he earns the sneering contempt of his colleagues.
He's the clingy comic foil in the group. Twin brother Francisco is readily remembered for his breakfast cereal obsession (he also composed the original music), Brad has wistful memories of his grampa, while Will and Heloise have this love-hate thing going on. The couple boils over after the opening intros in an astonishing duet that fuses old-time circus with cutting-edge contemporary dance.
Heloise keeps the astonishment coming later in the show with an aerial routine and a highly innovative encounter with an armchair. The resourcefulness and versatility of the Traces troupe has a cumulative effect as they lavish their skills on twin climbing poles, skateboards, chairs, a basketball and a piano. Of course, this ensemble displays a higher degree of stamina than the usual trainload of Cirque troupers who strut their brief time on the sawdust, but it really blew my mind when they started bumping each other off that piano bench without missing a note.
Inevitably, there are some relatively traditional segments that connect us to spectacles we've witnessed before. Brad's exploits with a large steel ring will be nothing new to Cirque de Soleil aficionados, but he does it to a rap soundtrack. Only the teeterboard routine hearkens all the way back to Barnum & Bailey.
That's something of a lull before the strobe lights fire up and we hear the air raid signal, cuing the highly original finale. As a stack of rings is built up like a tower, members of the troupe band together, jumping through the stacked hoops without colliding or landing on each other. Or toppling the teetering tower.
Not a bad way for the world to end.