The 7 Fingers convinces us to enjoy the ride in Passagers, an incredible show that combines high-flying circus skills with evocative dance, music and storytelling.
We have all been performing a balancing act during the pandemic. Juggling every aspect of life from home and enjoying the illusion of normality whenever possible. Compelled to avoid physical touch but urged to stay in touch. Dancing alone in small spaces. Watching dance on small screens.
Now, what a thrill it is to be united with other people in a familiar and full auditorium; to be collectively transported by theatre.
The production begins with the cast taking intentional, audible breaths. Attuning themselves to each new moment made possible by this rhythmic activity. Preparing to take our breath away. The train is coming and we are off on the journey of a lifetime.
Throughout Passagers (Passengers), The 7 Fingers blends circus arts and acrobatics with contemporary dance, music, songs and multimedia to explore travel as a metaphor for a lifetime. Strangers in a train carriage find themselves not only sharing a space but also sharing their stories. Small compartments of the train, which is fluidly formed and fragmented by the performers rearranging chairs and luggage trollies, come alive with big performances. Bodies bend, balance and bounce. Twist, turn and tumble. There is an irresistible pulse of perpetual motion.
Director Shana Carroll is one of seven founding fingers who established The 7 Fingers collective in Canada in 2002. The founders intended to redefine circus as an art form and, two decades later, they are renowned for their emotive and engaging shows. Their productions inventively incorporate the impressive physical feats of circus to reflect the challenges that all human beings face and overcome.
The quirky name, The 7 Fingers, is inspired by the French expression les cinq doigts de la main (‘the five fingers of the hand’). Each digit is independent and unique but together they make a hand. Similarly, the seven founders combined their distinct talents and experiences to pursue their mutual artistic goals.
Fingers and hands are used in meaningful ways. We cross our fingers for luck. We clap to show appreciation. We connect with a handshake, a high five or a pinky promise. Circus artists rely on their hands to support each other and to get to grips with apparatus. Touch is synonymous with trust – something that has a renewed significance in our mid-pandemic milieu.
The performers in Passagers use hand-to-hand contact to coordinate spectacular stacked positions, initiate somersaults and swing from the trapeze. The audience knows that lockdown restrictions curtailed the performers’ freedom to practise such daring acts. We also know that there is an inescapable element of risk. This knowledge, as well as the observation that the performers are dressed in unremarkable, everyday clothes, reinforces the human context. The premise is that these are ordinary people doing extraordinary things.
Passagers was devised in 2018 and this touring version features half the original cast; the rest of the current team jumped aboard more recently. All the performers are simultaneously amazing acrobats, actors and dancers. Each individual wows us with a kaleidoscope of skills.
The choreography plays with stillness and acceleration to create a whistle-stop tour through personal experiences of departure, transit and arrival. It reveals trains of thought and meanders through memories. The characters all have a reason to leave, somewhere to go and time on their hands during the journey.
As the atmospheric accompaniment provided by composer Colin Gagné intensifies, the passengers make the most of being in locomotive limbo. They soar through the air. Roll across the stage. Spin multiple hula hoops. Throw – and catch – each other. Ticket holders should expect to oscillate between gasping in wonder and forgetting to breathe.
A juggler shakes things up for his carriage companions. They abandon their half-hearted attempts to maintain classic commuter indifference and join in with his act. A contortionist uses circus magic and shape-shifting savvy to make her presence felt. She helps herself to other people’s belongings and amusingly repositions their limbs too. An aerialist unfurls from flowing silks like a butterfly taking flight. Suspended high above the stage, she appears to be dancing on clouds. Amid all this and more, the train keeps moving and the landscapes, which are stylish digital projections on the backdrop, keep changing.
The audience is left awestruck, entertained and reminded that life is for living. You can have your life mapped out but might never arrive where you think you are heading. None of us have any idea when our ride may be cut short so sometimes the best mode of transport really is a leap of faith.
What a way to get back on track after so many disruptions, delays and changes courtesy of Covid. The 7 Fingers takes us on a moving journey that is experienced through an exciting mixture of disciplines and embodied with charisma and conviction. Whatever type of live performance you have been missing, Passagers is just the ticket.
*Production photography by Alexandre Galliez.
The touring performers are: Lucas Boutin, Louis Joyal, Anna Kichtchenko, Maude Parent, Pablo Pramparo, Samuel Renaud, Brin Schoellkopf, Sabine Van Rensburg and Marilou Verschelden.
The 7 Fingers performs Passagers at Milton Keynes Theatre again this evening (Saturday 25 September) at 7.30pm.
Passagers UK Tour 2021:
Birmingham Hippodrome (21 and 22 September)
Milton Keynes Theatre (24 and 25 September)
Hull New Theatre (28 September)
Brighton Dome (30 September and 1 October)
Royal Concert Hall Nottingham (5 and 6 October)
Theatre Royal Plymouth (11 and 12 October)
This review is also featured on Total MK.
Georgina Butler is an editor, a dance writer and a ballet teacher.