*published on 26 July 2013 in The EDGE
The circus is back in town and this year’s Cirque du Soleil, “Quidam” features a young girl, her red balloon and an escape from what seems to be a very Dickensian life into a fantasy world, albeit one still populated by many folks in gray tatters.
This is not a joyful romp by any means. Perhaps the evening seems haunted by the recent death of a 32-year-old acrobat, mother of two, in a fall during a different show, “Ka” in Las Vegas. But many around me at the gleaming, but not near to full Barclays Center were murmuring that the show was too dark and depressing for children.
Director Franco Dragon and founder Guy Laliberte have called this show a walk into the fantasy life a child uses to escape a boring childhood. The design harkens to surrealism and images of Magritte can be found in many corners of the show. One of the most prominent is a large headless man carrying a bowler hat under his arm and marking the periphery of the stage with a silent circling.
The show is designed by Michel Crete and features an aluminum monolith, which represents a cold modern city. The huge arches of the set are ringed with moving rails, which can lift performers to heights above the stage and zoom them down again in an instant. There are more than 50 acrobats, dancers, musicians, singers and performers in this show, all costumed by Dominique Lemieux.
Although the theme is not a romp, the show is still filled with bravura performances highlighted by the live band and singularly amazing music composed by Benoit Gutras. The sounds really chill and enhance every moment. The show opens with the German Wheel, an enormous metal wheel where varying performers roll, leap and astound every time.
A young man tosses Chinese yo-yos with the aplomb of a college Frisbee champion and glee in his grin, as all around different performers dance, shimmy or carry props across the revolving stage. One woman dressed as a rabbit continues to appear, perhaps a nod to Alice in Wonderland being led on adventures by that famous bunny.
The ubiquitous ribbon dancers always entrance me as they wrap and wiggle, slide and wriggle from ceiling to floor. This time the ribbon was scarlet, perhaps reflecting the red balloon lost by our heroine, called Zoe. Further in the realm of acrobatic wonder, veering toward dance was a hand-to-hand acrobatic ballet.
The man and woman, both clothed in what appeared to be dingy undergarments, take the stage and in minutes grab the audience by the heart and soul. They move as if in slow motion, lifting legs arms and balancing on each others’ backs. They seem to assume the avian grace of shore birds lifting from heavy water taking frictionless flight.
A grand finisher was the Banguine, an Italian acrobatic tradition where a large troupe tosses participants as they build and deconstruct tall human towers all to the gasps of the audience.
Although this is not by any means the finest Cirque du Soleil presentation, it still thrills and enchants many who are attending for the first time. Times are darker, and perhaps a circus that reflects the need for all of us to escape and dream is a perfect reflection of these times.