O brave new world, that has such people in it!
'Tis only new to me, however: Circus spectacular Quidam has been around, in one form or another, for 15 years. Perhaps this is the holiday spirit speaking, but on my first viewing, I left thinking this Cirque du Soleil touring show is one of their very best.
It begins in domestic drama. A young girl named Zoé (Alessandra Gonzalez) is playing in the living room, ignored by her parents. Father (Patrick McGuire) has his face buried in the newspaper, catching up on world events while ignoring the world around him; Mother (Denise Wal) sits in a chair next to a bird-cage, sporting perfectly straightened hair and a Valium stare.
Into this sterile environment enters a headless man in a long parka and carrying a bowler, to shake things up. This character is apparently the Quidam of the title, but I'd prefer to refer to him as The Coat in the Hat.
Zoé follows The Coat in the Hat out through the front door and into a bizarre borderland between childhood and adulthood where acrobats turn innocent activities like swinging and jumping rope into extreme sports.
The design's frequent flashes of blood-red – balloons floating up to the roof; curtains falling to the floor – only cements the impression that the world of Quidam is one giant metaphysical metaphor for the thrills and chills of puberty.
I certainly was transported back to that mind-space. Watching contortionists is perhaps the closest we can come as adults to returning to that unsettling wonder we once felt when hearing about sex for the first time. Our bodies can do what exactly? You put what, where? How does that even work?
Quidam may be moody in concept – and I'm not really sure the tumblers in hazmat suits fit into my reading, truthfully – but the circus acts are also among the most mesmerizing I've seen and all the more enjoyable due to director Franco Dragone's dedication to blending art and athleticism at every turn.
The jump-rope section is jaw-dropping, while the banquine routine is simply breathtaking. In that climactic act, what looks like a 10-year-old girl is thrown two storeys in the air to be caught by a man standing on the shoulders of a man standing on the shoulders of a man. At that point, I muttered a certain well-known phrase aloud and it sure wasn't Shakespeare.
Perhaps the most stunning act is called "Statue" and features a strongman and strong-woman balancing on one another in symmetrical and seemingly impossible configurations. From the back of the stage, Zoé's parents wistfully watch this marriage of movement, this ideal partnership of two people leaning on one another. The combination is sad and almost unbearably beautiful.
After more than a decade of touring in the Grand Chapiteau tent, Quidam was reconfigured to fit into arenas – and the Cirque experience does, inevitably, lose some of its charm in this setting.
That said, Toronto's Ricoh Coliseum is a surprisingly intimate arena, as oxymoronic as that sounds. Also, stadium washrooms are much more pleasant than porta-potties and I got a big spicy sausage for five bucks.
The retooling of Quidam also means it can visit cities it couldn't before. After Toronto, it's off to the Ontario cities of Oshawa and Windsor, and next summer it resurfaces out West in Winnipeg, Regina, Edmonton, Kamloops, Kelowna, Abbotsford and Victoria.
It'd be unfair to end without mentioning that, in its current incarnation, Quidam has a truly top-notch clown in Voki Kalfayan, a skilled improviser who is a speed-reader of audience and atmosphere. His mime routines are among the oldest in the book – take a cute blonde from the front row on a date in an imaginary car! – but they were perfectly executed.
People often mock Cirque du Soleil for their clowns. I suspect it's because their clowns so skillfully mock people – what ridiculous creatures we are, they teach us over and over.
Quidam runs in Toronto until Dec. 30 ( cirquedusoleil.com).
- Written and directed by Franco Dragone
- Music by Benoît Jutras
- A Cirque du Soleil production
- At the Ricoh Coliseum in Toronto
- 4 STARS