dpm is a Birmingham-based freelancer with experience of arts and lifestyle features.
Amazing acrobatics reflect a journey through life
Canadian circus company 7 Fingers bring their blend of storytelling, music, movement and dramatic acrobatic skills to Birmingham Hippodrome this September. The Montreal-based company, which is renowned for blending theatricality and circus skills, will be performing Passagers, which is inspired by ideas of physical and emotional travel.
The show, which premiered in 2018 but had to be paused during the pandemic, comes to the Hippodrome on September 21-22 as part of Birmingham International Dance Festival.
Co-artistic director of 7 Fingers Shana Carroll wrote, choreographed and directs the production, which was initially inspired by memories of her childhood. "When I was young there was a train that would pass around 10km from our house and I would hear the sound of the train and the whistle," she says. "Even though it was far, I would always hear it no matter what time of the night and it always seemed strange to me that there were all these street noises that I would stop hearing and yet the train would always catch my ears."
And she adds: "It was interesting that it would call me. It's this promise of a future and uncharted lands and at the same time a reminder of the past partly because train travel was the travel of a certain era. You are in this small cabin, completely boxed in, and at the same time, you are in an endless landscape. You feel like you are completely motionless and yet you are speeding across this landscape. You can look out the window and see a fleeting landscape but at the same time, see your own reflection and have a moment that is very introspective."
These reflections came together as a start point for Passagers. "Those polar sides of travel and exploration became a metaphor for a lifetime and the journey we're all on - from our first breath, which is how the show starts, to our last breath, which is how the show ends. And how we can have moments of connection and joy and beauty and humour and quirkiness and all this stuff along the journey. And how we can anticipate this incredible arrival and the arrival never happens or we arrive in a place which we didn't expect."
Reflections on travel
Tragically, as she was beginning work on the production, Shana experienced the death of a close friend, which led her to look again at the idea of life as a journey. "I had this reflection on how we imagine these perfectly arced stories and lives with beginning, middle and end, and sometimes it doesn't have a perfect arc and it gets cut short without any warning. The last breath is probably always too soon for everyone and that's a little bit of reflection about how beautiful this journey is and yet the sadness of it being over."
Presented in the UK by Dance Consortium, a group of UK theatres who came together in 2000 to promote international dance in the UK, Birmingham kicks off a six-venue national tour. Bringing circus into theatres can pose some difficulties, says Shana. "Our shows are incredibly challenging technically. We tour theatres that are more used to housing theatre or dance shows and it's often a learning curve for the theatres we tour to. We've figured it out over the years and our technical team do an amazing job wherever we go. It's very rare we have to adapt anything to the point where we are sacrificing content."
While renowned for acrobatic skills, Shana says 7 Fingers shows are always about storytelling. "Circus is the core language and we are using it to express ideas and stories and emotion and psychology. Because we use circus to tell the story, it's embedded – even as we research the movement vocabulary and the acrobatic vocabulary, it's done from a point of wanting to speak through it."
And audiences react to this storytelling because they connect to the characters: "This may be because they feel like your friend or your brother or your sister, and then you care about the risk-taking and you care about these amazing feats they are doing, So it's a much more emotional experience watching the circus."
After being halted by COVID-19, 7 Fingers are back on the international stage and looking forward to sharing Passagers with audiences. "It's been 18 months since we performed it the last time due to the pandemic and we've been rehearsing with a half new cast, half original cast. We hire wonderfully charismatic and loveable people and we make it a point to feature that and let them bare their souls to a certain extent and that makes it all the more exciting."
Passagers is on stage at Birmingham Hippodrome on September 21-22, seehttps://www.birminghamhippodrome.com for more information and tickets.