Review: Quidam (Cirque du Soleil)

Performers from Cirque du Soleil: Quidam, Photo by Matt Beard

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

Photo credit:

– Performers from Cirque du Soleil: Quidam, Photo by Matt Beard

3 thoughts on “Review: Quidam (Cirque du Soleil)”

  1. This is the worst Cirque du Soleil show I have seen to date. It is dark and scary, like a bad dream; everything from the headless guy to the zombie-like characters wearing tattered rags at the beginning of the second half made me consider leaving before the show was over. I felt that the show was uninspired, lackluster and very slow at times. There are a couple of creepy characters including one with a swirl on his chest that reminded me of the character from the “Saw” movies which turned me right off. The band sits at the back in what looks like a stylized Louisiana swamp with some old-school Christmas lights strung above them and there are no scene changes at all. The costumes, quite frankly, were not up to snuff for a show of this caliber. Three of the performers just appeared to be naked in nude coloured underwear and the rest of the costumes just looked mismatched and bargain basement. Often times there was too much background stuff going on and it took away from the main performance. And the guy prancing around in the tutu, what was that? He was neither artistic nor comedic. The music was completely unmemorable and at one point sounded like demonic chanting. I also found there to be a lot of disturbing death imagery. During one act these awful hanging things that looked like ghosts made out of bedsheets that people put up at Hallowe’en were swung over the stage & partially blocked my view of the show. The ghosts served no purpose and were just swung back again when the act was over. The only part of the show I enjoyed was the clown; I would have preferred to watch him for 2 hours. The acrobatic acts themselves were perfectly executed but the overall tone and feel of the show left me unsettled. I know not every show can be rainbows and butterflies but Cirque Du Soleil is known for vibrant colours and amazing music and this show had neither. I would not recommend this show to anybody who wants a feel-good experience. Oh and the Ricoh Coliseum website says parking is $10, it is actually $15.

  2. Hmm, it’s always interesting to hear an opposing opinion.

    I can see if you were expecting something a little more along the lines of light entertainment fare for the holidays Quidam may not be to your liking but the elements that you mentioned you didn’t like; the darker imagery, the music, the costumes are precisely the elements that I think make the show such a brilliant work of art; not just commercial entertainment, bonafide art worthy of in-depth analysis. It’s not just circus, it’s thinking-person’s theatre.

    Quidam explores broad themes like modern alienation through the eyes of a child on the verge of losing her innocence. Each scene is allegorical and full of fascinating symbolism in the imagery. The show borrows heavily from the language of surrealist artists and some of the imagery is unsettling but it’s intentionally unsettling; they’re designed to evoke a visceral reaction but also to make the audience think about the broader context of each of the acts. The images really make me think and feel, I prefer this style of Cirque show because I find it stimulating and engaging beyond just the thrill of watching circus acts.

    The background scenes also add so much depth and so many layers to the show for me. Cirque shows don’t often feature full scene changes and most take place on a unit set like Quidam’s but this show’s set is particularly dynamic and capable of creating a host of stunning imagery.

    Quidam isn’t about bright colourful costumes, it doesn’t take place in a fantasy world inhabited by otherworldly beings, it’s an exploration and social commentary on our own society. The costumes aren’t as outlandish as in other Cirque shows but I think they’re brilliantly designed and work beautifully in the context of the show. The white coveralls evoke the nameless and faceless masses we see every day walking down the street and the image of the Father dejectedly trudging off to work in his 3-piece suit is powerful and evocative; he feels trapped, he hates his job but needs the money.

    Likewise with the music, I think Quidam features the finest score of any Cirque du Soleil show, it’s richly textured, blending the innocence of the child’s voice with the more powerful and menacing quality of the man’s voice, it features recurring themes and motifs that accentuate the show’s use of symbolism.

    I guess your expectations going in determine how much you’ll like the show. I don’t think Quidam is inaccessible or too dark but the style is certainly different from more recent Cirque shows which rely more on the same standard formula of circus acts, colourful costumes and world beat score model.

    I think Quidam is Cirque’s strongest show because it aims to do more than just follow that formula, it’s theatre and it elevates circus to the level of art.

  3. I work a job I wish I didn’t have to, I am a member of the faceless masses and I despise many aspects of modern society, but I don’t pay $100/ticket to go and re-live or analyze all of that. Yes I expected something positive, maybe thought-provoking but not depressing. I am also not a fan of modern dance and the like, I simply prefer classical beauty in my art and entertainment and while I can appreciate Cirque’s occassional deviation from their normal colourful productions I just want people to be aware of what they are getting into because I certainly wasn’t and had I known I would not have gone.

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