Cirque du Soleil presents Quidam in Toronto at Ricoh Coliseum through December 30, 2011.
Okay, I’m a certified Cirque du Soleil mega-fan, I’ve followed the company closely for over thirteen years and I’ve seen 23 different Cirque shows on three continents. Having seen that much Cirque, it’s not surprising that I’ve found many of their most recent efforts a little lacklustre and sometimes downright disappointing. I can unequivocally say that Quidam is my all-time favourite Cirque du Soleil show.
Quidam is a classic show; Cirque du Soleil at its very best. It’s a dark, dramatic and sensuous surrealist fantasy; the show’s aesthetic is influenced by artists like Dali and Magritte.
If you look beyond the dazzling acrobatics, Quidam is also a layered and cerebral show that explores overarching themes like modern alienation, anonymity in an urban setting and the paradox of the information age; how our hyper-connectedness actually makes us increasingly isolated.
We experience the world of Quidam through the eyes of a disenchanted young girl on the verge of adolescence, Zoé, who is ignored by her disengaged and self-absorbed parents. When a mysterious, headless stranger gives her a magical hat, Zoé is sent on a journey through the fantastical world of Quidam.
Created in 1996 and directed by Franco Dragone whose artistic vision largely defined Cirque du Soleil’s style, the show is a product of a different era for the company. Back in the mid-90s Cirque wasn’t the entertainment giant it is now. It was a time when the company really focussed on artistry and attention-to-detail when creating its shows.
Back then, the company would produce one new show every other year or so. Nowadays, the company is an international juggernaut and produces two or three shows each year so there simply isn’t the time to invest in the creative process or artistic development of each individual show. I’ve found the majority of Cirque’s shows of the past decade kind of soulless.
Quidam is a reminder of what made Cirque great in the first place. Playing a short, 12-performance run at Ricoh Coliseum over the holidays, Quidam first played Toronto under Cirque’s distinctive blue and yellow big top or “grand chapiteau” in 1996. If you’ve previously seen Cirque shows under the big top you may be wondering about the transplantation into arenas.
Because of the expense associated with transporting its own venue for big top tours, Cirque can only profitably play in larger cities that can sustain long runs. Recently, Cirque has taken to transitioning their older shows from tents to arenas. The move is designed to reduce as much overhead cost as possible so the shows can feasibly play shorter runs in smaller markets that wouldn’t be able to sustain a long, big top run. Quidam’s next stop is an arena in Oshawa.
Having previously seen Quidam under the big top, I do think that the show loses something in the transition to the arena. Part of the Cirque experience is the environment and atmosphere of the big top. That intimacy and ambience is lost once a show has transferred into a sterile, cavernous arena; it just doesn’t feel as special. Having said that, I still think Quidam is Cirque’s strongest show.
As expected, the circus skills are jaw-dropping but they’re only a part of the total experience. The acrobatics combine with music, costumes, lighting and choreography to create stunning imagery. Quidam is as tightly choreographed as a ballet.
Each number is a fully-integrated theatrical concept where every moment is as important as the one that preceded; the connecting choreography is as important as the big salto it leads to and the characters interacting in the background are as important as the main circus act itself.
You can feel the emotional torment of the woman contorting herself while suspended high in the air in a swath of red fabric. The sexy, serpentine movements of the bikini-clad hand-balancer suggest both an inner demon and a sexual awakening. The aerialists performing on hoops wear costumes with gaping wounds on the front, as if their hearts have been ripped from their chests. The grand finale “Banquine” number is a stunning acrobatic ballet evoking the struggle of an oppressed under-class.
The production design is also spectacular. Quidam is staged on a gleaming metallic set featuring a rotating stage deck and a system of five overhead rails capable of flying performers and scenery on and off the stage. Musical accompaniment is provided by a six-piece band playing an eclectic score fusing elements of progressive rock, jazz and traditional Eastern European music.
As far as I’m concerned, Quidam is Cirque du Soleil’s masterpiece; it’s the most thoroughly integrated, emotionally and intellectually engaging and satisfying work the company has ever produced. You haven’t seen Cirque until you’ve seen Quidam.
- Quidam is playing at Ricoh Coliseum (100 Princes’ Blvd.) through December 30, 2011
- Shows run Monday to Friday at 7:30PM and Friday at 3:30PM, with an additional matinee on Thursday, December 29 at 3:30PM.
- Tickets $50 to $100
- Tickets are available by phone 416.970.8000 , in person at the box office or visit www.cirquedusoleil.com/quidam
– Performers from Cirque du Soleil: Quidam, Photo by Matt Beard