Les Sept doigts de la main [Seven Fingers] “Passengers”

at ACT San Francisco

Written by:
Toba Singer
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O Canada! (specifically Quebec) Your “Passengers” gifts us with the very best in circus arts.

Company top-drawer bona fides explain how the highest level of showmanship, not just in the service of classic tricks, but as a proper homage to sublime artistry, could emerge from a company of nine young artists. They arrive as a bouquet of at least six nationalities. Among them are artists who shaped such stellar companies as Cirque de Soleil, Cirque Eloize, several of who were “firsts” from their Third World nations to do so.

You might be interested to learn that their director, Shana Carroll, local Pickle Family Circus exponent and daughter of San Francisco Chronicle writer, Jon Carroll, has garnered cabinets full of gold medals and other awards for her creative work in the circus circuit. “Passengers” pulls onto the stage as a simulated railroad passenger train, where dancers in modern or vintage street clothes fall and recover or slice and glide through a set that materializes around their evocative shape-making. They carry and parry mid-century pre-roller-bag valises. As they climb aboard and seat themselves in telling configurations, they reveal their characters’ profiles.

Myriad personal stories emerge in song, dance, dramatic portrayals, and ultimately with the use of circus props to bring to the fore amazing hoop routines, tightrope tropes, aerial choreography, balletic juggling, and trapeze stunts that have women doing the heavy lifting, with men tossed hither and thither.

Brief histories of Physics experiments and science factoids pop up, such as an illustration of Einstein’s Time Dilation Theory and a description of one of Gedanken’s Thought Experiments. Ordinary-looking performers expose inner gumption, as well as theoretical and practical respect for the art, not by mugging or taking flashy poses in blinding costumes, nor by showing the seams of years of hard and committed work, but by rendering themselves as accessible as you are, only stronger, more flexible, bolder and braver, and in love with the art form they have trained to share.

Technical support for Passengers is outstanding, mostly by not standing out, but folding itself into the mood and substance of the work. Screened projections by Johnny Ranger of moving landscapes have their echo in giant rolling bolls of black shadowy fluff that could be scorched tumbleweeds or just black stuff. They keep pace with the landscape, as do dancers tumbling across the stage in sequence. The show’s score by Colin Gagné, draws on such classics as W.C. Handy’s St. Louis Blues and a variety of genres that don’t (mercifully!) include hard rock. Unlike in shows such as “Stomp,” there is no deafening noise except that made by friends who have come to cheer on friends, and whose enthusiasm goes audience-abusive at times.

Wherever you are in the world, don’t miss this spellbinder as it tours. https://7fingers.com/calendrier

Physics teachers, bring your classes: they will never forget what you took them to experience, or how it inspired them to dig more fully into their assignments. Dance teachers, bring your students, so they see how grand allegro can have many faces and lives. If you’re feeling hopeful (or hopeless) about ever seeing theatre again, exercise your best instincts by taking them on a ride to remember—a great way to remind yourself that a body in motion stays in motion. However you get there, this conductor is shouting, “All Aboard” for Passengers!

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