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In captivating ‘Passengers,’ this train is bound for glory

Sabine van Rensburg performs in The 7 Fingers’s production of “Passengers.”Sebastien Loze

Even beyond their jaw-dropping skill, what has defined The 7 Fingers circus troupe in visit after enthralling visit to Boston over the past decade is their sheer joy in movement.

That movement needn’t necessarily be of the kind we associate with circus, either. In the US premiere of “Passengers’’ at the Cutler Majestic Theatre, eight performers burst across the stage in an explosion of intricately synchronized routines that would be the envy of many a dance troupe — and that’s before they launch into the dazzling acrobatic and aerial feats that savvy audiences have come to expect from The 7 Fingers.


Conceived, directed, and choreographed by the protean Shana Carroll, the cofounding artistic director of The 7 Fingers, and supplied with a distinctive aural texture by composer Colin Gagne’s surging music, “Passengers’’ is built on the idea of train travel and all that it embodies: departures, arrivals, separation from loved ones, connections with strangers, journeys into the unknown.

Forward motion, in other words, as uncertain as it is unstoppable. “What’s my destination? I’m not really sure,’’ admits a female performer. “I was kind of hoping the train would tell me.’’

What The 7 Fingers does uniquely well is to convey states of mind and states of being through a tumult of motion, though moments of stillness are also effective in “Passengers.’’ This is especially so during a spellbinding performance by Freyja Wild and Maude Parent (the former speaking, the latter singing) of “Burma Shave,’’ Tom Waits’s classic song about a young woman’s desperate, ill-fated attempt to put her suffocating small town in the rear-view mirror.

“Passengers’’ evokes the shifting moods we undergo while traveling, from jubilation to melancholy, from a restless impatience to get there to worries about what we’ll find when we do. A male performer muses at one point: “Time — It moves differently on trains.’’


Indeed, even their breathing and body language are subsumed into the huffing-and-puffing rhythms of a train at the start of “Passengers.’’ In an amusing later scene, passengers share a train compartment less than comfortably: one guy keeps sneezing, another guy keeps bouncing a ball on the floor (a scene that paves the way for a display of juggling, natch). Scenes of parting and leave-taking in train stations abound: In one sequence, two couples embrace as they bid emotional farewells; in another, a young woman (college-bound, perhaps?) says goodbye to family and friends.

It must be said, however, that the show’s hold on its core concept gets loose at times. As with earlier 7 Fingers shows (and with Cirque du Soleil productions, for that matter), the animating idea of “Passengers’’ functions primarily as a pretext for The 7 Fingers gang to do what they do.

Which is fine by me, because whether they are hurtling, scissoring, or somersaulting about the stage or soaring above it on trapezes, aerial silks, Chinese poles, and aerial hoops, members of The 7 Fingers are magicians of the body. They clearly love what they do, and you’re likely to share the feeling. I cannot imagine how many thousands of hours of practice have gone into this level of virtuosity, and yet these indefatigable young performers somehow haven’t lost their sense of wonder. And, again, they are able to evoke that same sensation in us.

ArtsEmerson, the Emerson College-based presenting and producing organization that has done more than any other entity to impart an international flavor to Boston theater, has chosen to open its 10th season with “Passengers,’’ whose performers — Parent, Sereno Aguilar Izzo, Louis Joyal, Samuel Renaud, Brin Schoellkopf, Sabine van Rensburg, Conor Wild, and Freyja Wild — hail from Canada, Mexico, South Africa, Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States.


It’s the seventh time in those 10 seasons that ArtsEmerson has thrown out the welcome mat for The 7 Fingers, as Les 7 Doigts de la Main calls itself when touring in this country, and “Passengers’’ is a worthy addition to a roster that includes “Sequence 8,’’ “Traces,’’ “Cuisine and Confessions,’’ and my personal favorite, “PSY.’’ (All of the aforementioned were directed or co-directed by Carroll.)

For all the complexity onstage in “Passengers,’’ it was actually one of the simplest routines I found most captivating, when Freyja Wild set multiple hula-hoops spinning around and above her at impossible speeds and crazy angles, as if they were mere extensions of her arms. At the curtain call, Wild joined her seven gifted colleagues as they gathered onstage, radiating genuine happiness and even gratitude. Once again, we in the audience knew the feelings.


Conceived, directed, and choreographed by Shana Carroll. Production by The 7 Fingers. Presented by ArtsEmerson at Cutler Majestic Theatre, Boston, through Oct. 13. Tickets $25-$105, 617-824-8400, www.artsemerson.org

Don Aucoin can be reached at aucoin@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeAucoin.