Cirque du Soleil's Quidam aims for human scale
You’d think thatQuidam, with fewer larger-than-life imaginary creatures than the usual Cirque du Soleil fare, might be a little easier for the performers. After all, the production—which played here in 2004 in a circus tent but now comes in a slightly new format to the Rogers Arena—has more subtle makeup and costumes, and generally a more “human” story, than many of the shows the Montreal-based spectacle makers are known for.
However, the show’s senior artistic director, Richard Dagenais, reveals the human scale of Quidam is precisely what makes it even more demanding than usual for its team of gravity-defying acrobats.
“Quidam is a change in mood and approach,” he says, speaking to the Straight from Nashville, where the show is playing before coming to Vancouver this week. “You need to find a reality in your performance that the audience will be touched by. They’re not lizards or birds or anything like that; they are real people, so they will have to bring a little bit of themselves to the show. They have to reach that place where they have to make themselves vulnerable as a performer. We’re dealing with acrobats, as compared to an actor who has trained all their life to do that, so there’s a lot of work to be done there on this show.”
In many ways it’s up to Dagenais—who’s a sort of quality-control manager for both Quidam and Corteo, Cirque’s first touring arena shows—to make sure the artists stay in touch with that real emotion as they perform.
Luckily for him, the Franco Dragone–directed show is one of his favourites, and he considers it a Cirque classic. He adds it’s translated well into the arena setting, thanks in part to its ample use of all the vertical space along its unique “téléphérique”—a high metal rack that suspends artists in twirling hoops, on “Spanish web” ropes, swings, and silks, and transports them back and forth along sliding tracks.
“Quidam for me was a bit of a breakthrough for Cirque,” says Dagenais, a former Royal Winnipeg Ballet dancer, of the 1996 work. “There was definitely a different idea and feel when the show was created. They were just out of creating Saltimbanco and Alegrìa,” he explains, referring to two lighthearted, fantasy-based works, “and the team wanted to go somewhere different.”
Fortunately, the departure in mood has not meant any toning down of the acrobatics in Quidam, which include numerous aerial feats, a man rolling around at high speed inside a German wheel, and the spectacular show-closing banquine act—an intricately choreographed number in which 15 performers launch each other in the air like cannonballs and build themselves into increasingly elaborate human pyramids, without the use of wires or any other apparatus.
“When you look at acrobatic acts—and in Quidam we have some of the most beautiful they have created—when they’re done well they look easy,” says Dagenais, who adds that some of the performers have been doing these acts all their lives. “It’s kind of like in ballet, where the prima ballerina’s job is to make it look easy.” Of course, having it all “look easy” may be the team’s hardest job of all.