Photo: Kevin Berne.

Passengers

Old Globe Theatre, San Diego

Written by:
Josh Baxt
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If you asked me what Passengers is, I’d have to respond vaguely. Passengers incorporates dance, gymnastics, circus tricks, a little song, some spoken word, an odd discussion of Einsteinian relativity and other elements. Video backdrops, like the grainy films you stumble on in museum alcoves, set the mood.

Not a play or even a musical, it’s a sprawling mixed media/performance art kind of thingy. Is there a story in there somewhere? Could be. Is that important? Probably not.

Passengers is set on a long train ride. Nine travelers are buffeted by lurching stops and starts, annoying neighbors, thievery, love and boredom. They don’t talk about it much, but they dance, and those dances evolve into wild, gravity-defying acrobatics: hula hoops, trapeze, aerial silks, pole dancing (but not like that).

This is what The 7 Fingers do. Based in Montreal, they were founded 20 years ago to redefine circus. And while circus and gymnastics are major pieces of the troupe-members’ backgrounds, the show goes well beyond this physicality.

Essentially, Passengers is a meditation on train travel, and the occasional speaking parts render some small context. People go on train trips to escape things – cities, situations, lovers – or find new things. They share space with strangers in ad hoc communities.

There’s a lot of trust associated with train travel – implicit faith in the social contract – and that’s reflected in the acrobatics – nobody is performing alone. Something about the way they combine these various forms makes it work theatrically. There is no real story, but there is an emotional core.

Kudos to writer, director and choreographer Shana Carroll. There’s a lot of action all at once, and it advances with precision. I don’t have enough adjectives to adequately praise the ensemble. Truly mesmerizing.

More than anything, Passengers is some kind of strange magic trick. I expected to be entertained, tickled and even awestruck, but I did not expect to be moved.

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