Quidam (Cirque du Soleil), North American tour

Written by:
Karen Weinstein
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Cirque du Soleil
Guide and Founder: Guy Laliberte
Directed by Franco Dragone
Composer/Musical Director: Benoit Jutras
Choreographed by Debra Brown
U.S. Tour

Have you ever seen Cirque du Soleil If not, “Quidam,” which debuted in 1996 and features 50 acrobats, is as good a place to start as any. A product of Québec, the Cirque company, which is currently putting on 21 different shows around the country, is a phenomenon of our time. It takes acrobatics far beyond the boundaries of the expected.In addition to simply being good entertainment, it has influenced contemporary dance companies, pushing them in even more athletic/acrobatic directions. Cirque never fails to amaze. “Can human beings really do that?” is a thought that frequently goes through the viewer’s mind. The answer, I believe, is “yes and no.”

There is no question that right before your eyes the acrobats stretch beyond the tolerances of human joints, are thrown from one to another like so much fluff, and balance in positions no person can get to in the first place. But should we audiences keep demanding more and more extreme? Cirque boasts an enviable safety record borne of hours of training and practice, but what is the ultimate cost to the performers? Now, this is not the first time my mind has wandered thus, nor is the world of acrobatics the only one that provokes these thoughts. When I see a classical dance performance I am torn by wanting to see the Balanchine line (knowing it can only be achieved by the dancer’s courting starvation), yet rejoicing to see that many of today’s ballerinas have much healthier looking bodies. The comparison goes on throughout the sports world. But where should the line be drawn? “Quidam” lacks some of the most extreme contortions found in other Cirque creations. It does not, however, lack the bravado.

All Cirque performances travel with elaborately engineered stage sets. For “Quidam” The most dramatic were several pairs of rails that arched up over the stage. From these rails performers wooshed up and over the stage and proceeded to challenge gravity—dangling, swinging, sliding and whatever else could be cooked up for breathtaking—from the top of a huge tent or arena. Some of the most entertaining pieces in the program, however, are the least engineering intensive. The “German Real” (who knows what that means) features a man, mostly spread eagle, with his hands and feet pressed against the inside of a metal hoop. You can picture this if you think of a Da Vinci drawing (and his body is worthy of a Da Vinci drawing), but the performance is the opposite of static. He and the hoop-thing—what else can it be called?—gyrate, roll and spin in impossible patterns. In another, the simple device of a jump rope becomes an amazing group performance of under-and-over, in-and-out. breakneck speed, and flying bodies. The days of Double Dutch on the playground are not even related to this act.

“Quidam” features the usual breadth of showmanship pasted on to a senseless story that can only be gleaned by reading the summary on the company’s webpage. To summarize it here would be pointless, as it could hardly affect how you would view the performance on stage. Seeing “Quidam” without knowing the story works just fine … maybe better. There is surrealistic imagery, such as a Magritte-like headless raincoat that periodically wanders through the stage under a proper umbrella. It is entertaining and in no way relates to the official storyline … but is that not the point of surrealism? The story may have little relevance to the performance, but the high-volume live music, though not memorable, does propel the action.

What if you have seen several different Cirque productions? Is “Quidam” a must-see? For Cirque fanatics the answer is, of course, yes. For others, it is not unique, and it may be that this one can be passed up.

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