'Anthropic Traces' by Balancing on the Edge

Now playing to July 31 at Streetcar Crow's Nest

Contortionist Samantha Halas and Juggler Louis Wei-Chun Barbier perform Meeting in the Space Between the Walls with music by Bekah Simms.

Photo credit: Neal Kuellmer

Joe Szekeres

A sensual kaleidoscopic visionary journey of spectacle, sight, and sound, but pay close attention as it will all make sense.

The playing space of the Guloien Theatre was utilized to its maximum potential for this final preview performance of ANTHROPIC TRACES which opens on July 29 and runs to July 31. It’s unfortunate it is a short run as there is a great deal to admire about this circus-like spectacle of clowning, dance, movement, mask, and multimedia projections.

I needed 24 hours to think further about the show because I went into visual and thought overdrive in trying to comprehend as much as I could.

There are cards outside on the tables in the reception area of Crow’s Theatre setting the story: We are in the current epoch, Anthropocene, where we see the traces of human existence leaving an indelible mark on the history of the earth. The semi-circular playing space is cast in shadows as the audience enters. There are musical instruments, trunks, suitcases, and valises of various sizes on the stage. There are pre-show sounds of twittering birds.

At the top of the show, we listen to an important notice regarding ‘Truth then Reconciliation’ in recognition of First Nations peoples of this land. Once again, the message about water is of utmost importance as part of this process which firmly sets an important base for the show.

In a change of lights, there is frantic movement on the stage, and it appears we are in an airport somewhere as there are overhead flight announcements. Dressed in clown masks, the performers quickly and frantically dash across the stage with suitcases in hand as if they have a flight to catch. The masks are extraordinary in their detail, and I wanted to look at them more but couldn’t as the performers moved quickly around. Far stage left is a huge rectangular screen with digital time ticking away ever so quickly.

A couple dressed in masks move far stage left and sit under the screen. Throughout the performance, the countdown time suddenly changes format and just becomes a blur. At one point I noticed time stopped completely on the screen.

Amy Hull’s monologue in ‘A Study in Exile Home is Not a Place on a Map’ moved me so much when she says near the end of her monologue that she owes no explanation to anyone for who she is or what she holds dear to her heart. A few audience members around me applauded her and I too applauded her words within my heart.

But where is all of this going? What am I missing or not understanding?

Despite these questions, I am listening to some exquisite sounding, and what I am assuming, original music underscoring the scenes. At the intermission, I scan the online programme to see the names of the musicians. Unfortunately, at the end of the show, I wanted to scan the programme again quickly to read the names but couldn’t do so as the QR code on my phone would not allow me. More on this shortly.

Twenty-four hours later in thinking and reflecting it suddenly dawned on me just how carefully choreographed and uniquely clever ‘Anthropic Traces’ becomes to a live audience. Yes, we have created this mess for ourselves in our world, but there is a way it can change and grow.

The effects of boundary-pushing freneticism become painfully illuminated in the emotional scene “Meeting in the Space Between the Walls’. Contortionist Samantha Halas and Juggler Louis Wei-Chun Barbier sadly reflect the lack of communication we have created for ourselves. Halas and Barbier stirringly keep in time to the music in their movements – Halas with her body and Barbier in the placement of the boxes between the two. At one point, I held my breath as I couldn’t avert my eyes from these two terrific performers as I wanted to watch their every move with anticipation. But the hand reaching between the barriers of the blocks said it all for me.

The visual projection effects are absolutely stunning to watch live in the second act. A train comes by and the performers exit incommunicado with each other so we were reminded of this theme from the first act.
It was after the detraining of the passengers that it suddenly became apparent to me how we can change from this uncommunicative environment we have created for ourselves.

And how to do this?

Through the healing powers of water that we heard about in the opening message.

And it is incredibly breathtaking to watch here, especially with swimmers Lara Ebata and Samantha Halas as they front crawl towards the stage. Nicole Malbeuf’s work in the Hair Hang is stunning and brave to watch. Again, I waited with bated breath in wonderment watching her every move.

I felt a sense of completion at the end of the production, but ‘Anthropic Traces’ is something I would like to see once again.

The only quibble I have (and it’s slight at that) is the QR code reading for the programme. I get the reason for QR codes. The programme is extensive to read as I set aside a few minutes to read it before the production and during intermission. I also found that I wanted to read something in it at the end before I left the auditorium and found I couldn’t access it. I then went back out to the reception area and I couldn’t access the programme again through the QR code.

I was then given the website to access the programme; however, as I’m writing this article, I’m having to switch back and forth on the screen when it would have been helpful to look at the programme for specifics.

As the production continues, is it possible perhaps to print a select few for this purpose?

The running time of the production is approximately 2 hours and 40 minutes with one 20-minute intermission where we are asked to leave the theatre so the stage can be re-set for the second act.

The production runs to July 31 in the Guloien Theatre at Streetcar Crowsnest, 345 Carlaw Avenue. For tickets and other information, visit www.balancingontheedge.ca, crowstheatre.com or call the Box Office (647) 341-7390.

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