A Dancer’s Inspiring Journey & A Show You Won’t Forget

It’s a cozy night in the theatre. The lights are dimmed, all are seated, and the audience is quiet as they wait for the show to begin. Titled “Traces,” some viewers may have been brought here by good reviews while others were recommended by friends. Little do they realize that for the next 90 minutes, they will be transported to another world: one of dance, acrobatics, music, energy, and emotion. In the blink of an eye, seven figures take the stage: six males and one female. There is no slow progression, no easing into things. They enter with zeal and vivacity, moving in the most electrifying kinds of ways and stunning the crowd with every subsequent stunt. The theatre is no longer quiet and mellow – it is brimming with life.

Those seven figures lighting up the stage are Les 7 doigts de la main. The name of the company translates to “the seven fingers of the hand.” It’s a twist on a French idiom used to describe different parts united in coordination toward a common goal, and it honestly couldn’t be more fitting. Each of these talented dancers has something unique to bring to the performance. The show itself is highly personal, involving speaking parts, solo scenes, and even childhood photographs. The audience is able to get a feel for each individual dancer and their different personalities.

One of the more outgoing, friendly personalities belongs to dancer Lucas Boutin. The cast of Traces hails from all different parts of the world, including Mexico, China, the US, Canada, and England – Lucas being the French counterpart. Growing up in France, his passion for performance arts and acrobatics came about early on. At just six years old, Lucas began circus training. With much practice and determination, he excelled at juggling, unicycling, and acrobatics. At the age of 15, he attended a special circus high school where he continued circus training alongside his education. Three years later, he moved on to London where he furthered his talents in theater and dance. It was here that Lucas made the art of Chinese pole his main focus. With all this experience under his belt, Lucas has taken his talents across the globe, traveling far and wide to pursue the thrills of performing before a live audience.

Lucas began performing with the Traces cast in March of 2012, with the full current crew having been united October 2013. Lucas dances in a variety of scenes, but his main act is Chinese pole. Watching his stunts can do one of two things to your heart: make it beat rapidly, or make it stop altogether. The audience holds their breath as he climbs up the pole and projects his body horizontally, no strings in sight. It takes an incredible amount of strength, balance and focus to succeed at the feat that is Chinese pole. As Lucas performs these stunts – one of which includes sliding down the pole head-first and stopping right before hitting the ground – it is only him and gravity. That, and the surrounding gasps of the crowd.

Though Chinese pole is his specialty, he cites Traces’ opening number as being his favorite to perform. This beginning scene is lively as it is chaotic, involving all seven of the dancers running around the stage doing jumps and karate moves. Lucas says this scene is exciting but challenging to do because the members are responsible for catching objects and even one another. Missing a beat is not an option when timing is of the essence.

The show features the dancers performing in a variety of forms, from contemporary dance to hoop diving to skateboarding to juggling to acrobatics to basketball to banquine and teeterboard flips. Even with all these adrenaline-pumping acts, dancer Naomie Zimmermann-Pichon says she finds the speaking parts to be the most challenging. (Ironic how the dancers can seem to flip through the air like it’s nothing, but find their hearts pounding when presented with the mic.) Throughout Lucas’s speaking parts, we come to know him as a comical and happy-go-lucky guy who is self-described as being curious, jealous, and naïve. He later mentioned to me that some more adjectives to describe himself would be smiley, happy, and passionate.

Passionate, indeed. Touring as a performer requires an immense amount of dedication. Waking up in a new city is a regular occurrence for Lucas. After the Traces crew’s run in Boston, the group takes their talents to China, then Japan, followed by France. Previously, Les 7 has performed in Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Mexico, Russia, New Zealand, China, Japan, and all over the US. Traveling great distances has brought Lucas many unpredictable experiences that have made for exciting stories. As if his risky stunts on stage weren’t adrenaline-boosting enough, he went skydiving during his day off in New Zealand. One time en route to Mexico, he faced airplane problems and arrived with only one day to spare before the premiere. In that one day, he had to learn the entire show.

Looking ahead, Lucas says he would be honored to do another Les 7 doigts de la main show, citing how he enjoys the personal aspect of the performances. According to him, even with the show’s pre-established style, the dancers are able to bring themselves into their tricks and make it their own. And it isn’t just a matter of acting – real emotion is put into each performance, making for a highly personal and unique experience.

Lucas says he believes the arts bring people together, and that theater and circus can act as a source of unification. This is why he cites the audience itself as being his biggest inspiration. He told a story of a girl who was struggling with depression at the time she went to see Traces. After the show, the girl approached the cast and told them “Thank you, you saved me.” It is moments like this that give meaning to what he is doing. “If I can impact even one person in the audience each night, I’ve done my job right,” Lucas says.

Traces is a show bursting with verve and energy, much like the dancers themselves. “Work hard, do what you love, and never let anyone stop you,” Lucas offers when asked to give advice to those seeking to fulfil their dreams. Even in times when others doubted him and what he was doing, he stayed true to himself and continued to pursue his passions. It is with this integrity that great achievement has come about. Les 7 hopes to bring viewers every night this message of doing what you love.

As the final scene of Traces comes to a close, the music fades, the curtain closes, and the lights go back on. The show has ended – but the feeling remains. The essence of empowerment, passion, and liveliness will stay with audience members for days to come.

To “lead a life fully” is Lucas’s personal philosophy. And from this performance, many will have been inspired to do the same.

Special thanks to Lucas Boutin for interviewing! To find out where Traces is headed next, see tour dates here.

Stockholm, CA: Music by Sweden, Weather by California

Autumn is upon us in Los Angeles, and you know what that means – palm trees, shorts, and sunshine (still). However, a wave of coolness descended upon otherwise hot Downtown LA on Saturday as Swedish music blasted.

Stockholm, CA is the first all-Swedish music festival to take place outside of Scandinavia.  The music festival was held at The Shrine located Downtown and featured a number of top tier bands, musicians, and DJs who flew in from Sweden. For headliner Little Dragon, it was the only show they played the whole year.

Going around the festival felt like being in a sea of tall, blue-eyed blondes. Stockholm, CA was welcoming to those of all backgrounds, but spoke particularly to the Scandinavian population that has found their way over to Los Angeles.

Stockholm, CA’s lineup included Little Dragon, Icona Pop, Rebecca & Fiona, Elliphant, Veronica, Maggio, Mapei, Otto Knows, Salvatore Ganacci, Nause, and AronChupa. The variety of genres – from rock to electronica to indie alternative to rave – made for a perfect blend that appeals to any kind of listener.

Aside from music, the festival also boasted creative art displays, Swedish beer, traditional Swedish coffee, all-vegetarian food, and even a giveaway to win a free trip to Sweden. There certainly was not a lack of things to be seen, heard, or tasted.

While the sounds of Sweden filled the venue, thankfully no heavy coats and fur-lined boots were to be found. The music festival’s tagline reads “Music by Sweden, weather by California” – a cheeky motto that couldn’t be any more accurate.

The Fukushima Youth Sinfonietta Visits Boston

The Tohoku disaster, memorialized by its date “3/11,” proved to be one of the most trying times in Japanese history. The earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disasters that occurred on March 11, 2011 devastated the country, especially those living in Fukushima.

With the perseverance so essential to Japanese culture, the citizens of Fukushima refused to have their spirits broken in the aftermath of the devastation. From the disaster came the rise of the Fukushima Youth Sinfonietta. The Fukushima Youth Sinfonietta is composed of young Japanese musicians from middle schools in Fukushima City. These students found solace and healing in the creation of music. With great passion, they practiced their instruments for months until achieving perfection. Their music has proved to be more than pleasant rhythms: it is a symbol of strength and hope.

The Fukushima Youth Sinfonietta took their talents to Boston Symphony Hall recently in an event made possible by the the TOMODACHI Initiative of the U.S.-Japan Council, Japan Society of Boston, Keys of Change, the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo, and the Consulate General of Japan in Boston. 

The performance began with a videoclip of the Japanese students visiting Boston for the first time. Images flickered across the screen of the students excitedly exploring the city of Boston and learning about its history. Being a part of the Sinfonietta has allowed the youth to visit places they had never been to before, and see the world while sharpening their craft.

Speeches of reflection and gratitude were given before the performance, setting the mood for what would be a night full of emotional energy. Speakers included Panos Karan, founder of the non-profit organization Keys Of Change that works to bring music to those living in difficult circumstances across the globe.

All eyes followed the Fukushima Youth Sinfonietta as they took the stage. Brilliant notes filled every inch of Symphony Hall, the music as lively as the spirits of those creating it. It was hard to believe that the larger-than-life sounds being heard were coming from the children on stage. The beautiful and moving music played as a testament to how far these youth had come since the Tohoku disaster.

For some, the night ended with tears. For most, the night ended in roaring applause and standing ovation. For all, it ended with hope.

Only this was not an ending – this was a beginning. The beginning of the triumph of the survivors of 3/11, their energy channeled into profound music being played across the world.

“You were Boston Strong – now we are Japan Strong!”

Local Music, Rising Talent: The Red Room

In the Boston area and want to see up and coming talent? Look no further than the Red Room. The Red Room is a part of Cafe 939, owned by Berklee College of Music. Berklee is home to some of the world’s greatest young musicians. Notable names that got their start at Berklee include John Mayer, Esperanza Spalding, and Annie Clark. The Red Room is a great place to support local talent and catch a glimpse of artists who will help mold the future of music.

Bands Jive McFly, Cherry Mellow, and ZILLA recently took the stage at the Red Room. The concert awarded listeners a multitude of sounds, from the funk vibes of Jive McFly to the aggressive rock notes of Cherry Mellow to the soulful jazz of ZILLA. The variety of genres made for an energetic live show that kept audiences guessing what was next. It was a unique combination that made for a memorable night. Undeniable was the talent of the young musicians who came from different backgrounds and homelands to make their mark on the Boston music scene.

Check out footage of the concert above, and click here to see which bands will be making their rounds next at Cafe 939 (many of the shows are free).

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TOMODACHI Inouye Scholars Take On Japan

23 students from Emerson College were selected to attend a ten-day trip to Japan as TOMODACHI Inouye Scholars. The fellowship is in the name of Daniel Inouye, the first Japanese-American serving Senator who committed himself to strengthening ties between the United States and Japan. The program is part of the larger Government of Japan’s KAKEHASHI Project, which seeks to promote deeper understanding among Japanese and Americans as well as inspire future leaders and encourage participants to take on active roles at the global level.

Students traveled to Tokyo, Kyoto, and Shiga to learn about Japanese culture. They were also able to tour government buildings and meet with Japanese officials. Highlights included staying with a local Japanese family in a Minshuku, using chopsticks and eating traditional Japanese cuisine, visiting numerous Shinto and Buddhist shrines, practicing speaking Japanese, creating works of calligraphy, meeting students at a local university, and learning more about the life of Senator Daniel Inouye.

See video below.

Backroads Boston: The Hidden History of Beacon Hill

Remnants of Boston’s History: A Walking Tour of Beacon Hill
Gas lamps lining the streets. Brass knockers on tall wooden doors. Boot scrapers perched outside townhouses. You may think this is a backdrop for Colonial times, but the year is 2016. This is Beacon Hill, Boston.

Beacon Hill is a certified U.S. National Historic Landmark District, with its famous brownstones dating back to the early nineteenth century. What was once grazing land for cows now stands as the homes of the wealthy and elite. They line the northern border of the present-day Boston Common.

Beacon Hill isknown as Boston’s most historic neighborhood, yet the best glimpses into the history it offers often go overlooked. It is the details, closely observed, that truly show Beacon Hill as a portal to the past.

So come along.

You can use the map below as a guide in navigating some of the historic remnants of Beacon Hill. Click each pin for more information on a site. Read under for more details and visuals on these lesser-known but important spots.

Bootscrapers – A Walk Down Manure Lane

West Cedar Street, Chestnut Street

You probably won’t notice them at first, but once you see them, they are impossible to ignore – the little iron fixtures along West Cedar and Chestnut. They come in quirky shapes and sizes, and stand along the entryways of old brownstones. They’re called bootscrapers, and they remind us of a time before automobiles. These bootscrapers were once used to scrape off dirt from peoples’ feet before entering homes. Before cars, horses were the way of transport – and they didn’t come without manure. Since no one wants to drag pieces of horse poo into a clean house, these bootscrapers helped resolve that issue. Some have lost a leg, but many still stand unharmed today.

 Sunflower Castle – An Artist’s Haven

130 Mount Vernon St.

When people think of Boston’s art scene, their minds gravitate toward the South End. But Beacon Hill was the center of a flourishing art scene during the 1800’s and early 1900’s. This red and yellow house off of busy Charles Street stands as a symbol of Beacon Hill’s role in the developing art world. It was once home to Gertrude Beals, a watercolor artist who used the third floor of the house as her painting studio. The nickname “Sunflower Castle” comes from the colorful carving of a sunflower on the exterior. This house can be yours today for a measly $4.6 million.

Vilna Shul – Original Prayer House of Eastern European Immigrants

18 Phillips St.

Aside from being breathtakingly beautiful, this synagogue is steeped in rich history. The Vilna Shul was built in 1919 by Jewish immigrants who came over from Vilna, Lithuania. The Shul came very close to being torn down more than once, but it still stands today. When paint covering the walls was peeled back in the building’s main room, a traditional decorative mural was revealed. It turns out these colorful interior murals are some of the only examples of pre-war Jewish mural art in the United States.

Charles Street Meeting House – Church of Change

70 Charles St.

It’s easy to overlook the Meeting House’s significance as you sip a latte and nibble a croissant in the cafe that now inhabits it, but the history of the Charles Street Meeting House is not to be forgotten. Built in 1807, the building was home to three different church congregations. Under its third owners, it served as a hotspot for abolitionist activity. Famous abolitionists who spoke here include Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, and Harriet Tubman. Today it stands among trendy clothing stores and business offices, but the legacy of the Charles Street Meeting House lives on as it is an official National Historic Site and part of Boston’s Black Heritage Trail.

Louisburg Square – Home to Little Women

10 Louisburg Square

Louisburg Square is arguably the most elite nook of Beacon Hill. Gorgeous brownstones circle a strip of greenery, and cobblestones serve as an alternative to pavement. Many flock to the Square for photos and a hopeful glimpse of Secretary of State John Kerry (who lives at No.19), but few recognize the history over at No. 10. House No. 10 in Louisburg Square was the final dwelling of Louisa May Alcott, author of the classic Bildungsroman novel, “Little Women.” The best-selling author moved to No. 10 in 1885 and lived here with her father,  transcendentalist Bronson Alcott.

African Meeting House – Oldest Black Church in the USA

8 Smith Court

Built in 1806, the African Meeting House was no stranger to the voices of leaders who changed the course of history. Abolitionists who led monumental movements came and spoke here, ranging from William Lloyd Garrison to Maria Stewart. Today, it remains the oldest standing black church in the United States and houses the Museum of African American History.

Dwelling of Former Mayor – The Last Carriage House

45 Beacon St.

Overlooking the Boston Common at 45 Beacon is a Federal style mansion that was once home toHarrison Gray Otis. Otis served as Boston’s third mayor from 1829 to 1832, and was also elected as Massachusetts State senator in 1817. He had three homes, but this particular one stands out because it features what is the sole extant carriage house in Beacon Hill. Aside from the lovely final-standing carriage house, the mansion itself holds a grand 37 rooms. That includes 10 bathrooms, 15 fireplaces, and a wine cellar. Otis lived here until his death in 1848.

 Gas lamps – Lighting the Way to Boston’s Past

throughout Beacon Hill

Starting down Charles Street, the attentive eye will notice features that separate Beacon Hill from its more modern neighbors of downtown Boston who have freshly paved roads, high-rises, and technological innovations. One of the historic emblems that stand proudly all throughout Beacon Hill and set it apart from the rest of an ever-changing Boston are gas lamps. These fire-lit gas lamps were used as a light source in a time before electric streetlights. Today, they add an old-time charm to the neighborhood,, which feels especially romantic during nighttime.

Old Fashioned Doorknockers – Reminding Us “Who’s There?”

throughout Beacon Hill

Growing up, you likely rang your pal’s doorbell when you arrived. Today, you probably shoot him or her a text saying you’re here. This kind of technology simply didn’t exist in the nineteenth century, so when you showed up to a home, you had to do that thing where you make a fist and pound it on the door. The residents of Beacon Hill kept it classy and had knockers installed on their front doors. Many of these doorknockers are still present, though mostly for the aesthetics rather than actual usage. They come in unique shapes and concepts, from lion heads to anchors to bald eagles. Despite winter’s cold love affair with Boston, these brass doorknockers have remained in good condition even after many years.