By Mary Ellen Green
Step into a fanciful and melancholy world with Cirque du Soleil’s Quidam (Key-dahm).
This feast of human strength, agility and artistry is unlike any other Cirque du Soleil show, in that instead of taking place in a fantasy world, it takes place in the human imagination, exploring a range of emotion unique to the human experience.
Quidam tells the story of Zoe — a restless young girl completely ignored by her distant and apathetic parents. With the help of a mysterious individual, Zoe retreats into an imaginary world full of interesting characters who encourage her to free her soul. It is within this world that the Cirque really comes to life with displays of staggering dexterity, beauty, balance and strength.
At the centre of the circular stage is a revolve, which gives the audience a chance to explore the acts from every angle. The stage floor is covered with perforated rubber matting, allowing light to pass through from below (more than 200,000 holes), creating interesting visual effects. And high above the stage hangs the “telepherique,” a 120-foot-long arch with five aluminum tracks, each fitted with trolleys that transport performers through the void.
The first act features the “German Wheel,” with a man encircled by a large metal hoop, cartwheeling and somersaulting around the stage in a high-energy welcome.
Next comes a quartet performing the Chinese yo-yo, or “Diabolo,” in an act that is as much an elegant dance as it is astonishing acrobatics.
Then the audience is treated to a story of life and death in “Aerial Contortion in Silk” featuring a single, seemingly nude character performing incredible aerial acrobatics and contortion while suspended from a long, silk band of red fabric.
This act begins gracefully slow before picking up to a frenetic pace, making for a perfect transition into the “Skipping Rope” act with a large, upbeat ensemble. Although the act had the feel of a school-yard double dutch party, these acrobatics were much more intricate and sophisticated than you would find in any playground.
The last act of the first half is the “Aerial Hoops,” featuring a trio of elegant bodies twirling through the air high above the stage, literally hanging onto the hoops by the skin of their necks, or the tips of their feet.
After a short intermission, the audience is brought back into the same imaginary world — although it is clear, through the change to tattered, grey costumes — that they have been through something traumatic, even apocalyptic.
All colour has been stripped away and the moody music, performed live by a six-piece band of immensely talented musicians, sets the scene for the “Hand Balancing” act, with a single female performer precariously perched over tiny platforms just big enough for one hand (or one foot) to hold on to. She twists, bends and lifts her body into increasingly intricate poses, displaying incredible feats of balance and strength for someone with such a small, lean frame.
Next, five aerialists climb 30 feet into the air on large ropes hanging from the telepherique in “Spanish Web.” Wrapped in rope like boa constrictors, the aerialists let go and unravel as they plummet towards the ground without a safety net. Next, they clip on to the rope by a small loop attached to an ankle or wrist and are spun around so quickly they end up horizontal.
The magnificence of the human form is celebrated in “Statue,” where two almost-nude performers, completely attuned, move in slow motion as they counterbalance each other almost in mirror image poses.
Imagine a man standing with a woman balanced on his shoulders. Now picture the woman’s shoulders resting on the man’s shoulders, while facing the opposite direction, her feet in the air. This is the first pose they take and it gets ever more mind-blowingly hard to imagine (and describe!) as the act progresses. This is one of the most fascinating things I’ve ever seen humans accomplish.
During the “Aerial Swing,” I almost had to look away (out of anxiety), as the performer, swinging high above the stage on a swing rope connected to the telepherique, leaps from her perch, twisting and turning before catching herself back on her swing by nothing but her knees.
The last act, a blend of dance, acrobatics and cheerleading called “Banquine” was my favourite. There’s so much going on in this 15-person ensemble number that it’s hard to know where to look. At the end of the banquine act, the performers are stacked four-high!
While Quidam has a more of a moody, melancholy feel than some of the other Cirque shows I’ve seen, it does offer moments of joy and amusement, with the biggest laughs coming during the clowning scenes interspersed throughout the show.
Audience members are pulled up on stage and become some of the most entertaining and light-hearted parts of the show. M
Quidam is playing Sept. 5 to 9 at the Save on Foods Memorial Centre.
Tickets range from $36 to $100 and are available at selectyourtickets.ca