Valérie Benoît-Charbonneau is the only woman in the cast of "Traces," a thrilling acrobatic Broadway production opening tonight at the Straz Center. But the moment the petite 23-year-old steps onto the stage, she's just one of the guys.
"We work together very well," said Benoît-Charbonneau during a break from rehearsals in Montreal. "They are all really nice guys and artists and I feel very much part of the group. It's so unique to be the only female, I sometimes miss some girl time, but I love it."
"Traces," from Montreal-based Les 7 Doigts de la Main (Seven Fingers), is a show that combines traditional acrobatic acts such as juggling, teeterboard, hoop jumping and spinning inside an oversized wheel, with street elements such as skateboarding and basketball.
Benoît-Charbonneau and her six collaborators, all former Cirque du Soleil members, express themselves with jaw-dropping acrobatics as a way to leave a lasting mark on society. Between daring routines, the performers share intimate details about themselves to create a bond with the audience, Benoît-Charbonneau said.
"It is the end of the world, and we want to give everything we have before it all comes to an end," Benoît-Charbonneau explains in French-accented English. "It's a very difficult show because you always have to be quick and ready to react. We spend time (before the show) warming up and connecting with each other, but the show is so demanding you really can't do too much or you will tire yourself out."
One of the most difficult routines for Benoît-Charbonneau comes in the early part of the first act, when she and her partner perform a "hand-to-hand," an acrobatic pas de deux where the two come together and fling themselves apart in a flirtatious dance. It's the only time in the show when she feels like a woman, she adds.
"There's a completely different energy in this number," she said. "It's an intimate moment between a woman and a man. We really need to be precise because he's throwing me and catching me back and I need to be at the right spot. (When we're performing) I feel there is nothing around us but me and my partner."
Benoît-Charbonneau, who trained at Montreal's National Circus School, knew she wanted to be in "Traces" the moment she saw it.
"I saw the first cast and felt it was such a unique and exciting show I wanted to be a part of it," she said. "Now, I am, and I get to give everything I have to the audience and bring them along for the ride. It's amazing."