The saying “a little goes a long way” is rarely adhered to anymore, in an age where bigger means better. On Friday night, however, Cirque du Soleil’s revamped revival of its famous Quidam allowed a sparse, minimalistic show to fill the cavernous Agganis Arena. It was an enjoyable departure from the bombastic troop, one that never sacrificed sheer delight while scaling down.
The Quebec-based Cirque rarely strives for coherency, but Quidam adheres to a fairly enjoyable storyline throughout its roughly three hour running time. The show follows young Zoe (Alessandra Gonzalez) and her quest to overcome anonymity in an increasingly busy world. She seeks to fill the void of her existence by totally immersing herself in the imaginary, concluding that creativity and individuality still exist.
On her journey, Zoe encounters various acts, the best of which was titled simply “Statue.” A man and a woman (Laetitia Bodin and Remi Chal-Debeauvais), barely clad in anything, moved swiftly and imperceptibly, surely a testimony to the wonders of the human body. The two twisted themselves into stunning positions that made audience members audibly gasp. Entrancing and gorgeous, the act didn’t utilize music or lighting, but the pair didn’t need fancy theatrics, rousing the crowd to its feet for the only time that night.
Quidam also featured, as Cirque almost always does, a diabolo act in which young performers partake in this art of the Chinese yo-yo. The four young girls on stage somersaulted, jump roped, and balanced precariously as they flung their wooden spools back and forth between their sticks linked by string. It was frothy fun, and mystifying, to watch.
Other acts failed to make as large of an impression, but entertained nevertheless. A Tarzan-like man spun circles around the stage in the German wheel, an act in which he became the human spoke in a revolving, gravity defying act. Later, a pair of acrobats brought jump roping to a whole new levelwhen it succeeded. Sadly, the group stumbled and tripped up more often than not. It was the one rough patch in an otherwise flawless series of feats.
Two female acts commandeered the second half of the show with their flexible and enthralling performances. The first, a lithe and muscular woman, emerged from the floor and proceeded to perch herself on balancing canes. There, she elegantly weaved her body through a series of intricate positions, completely captivating the silent crowd. Later in the show, another woman swung from the ceiling in a new breed of trapeze act. It was like watching gymnastics and acrobatics take place in the sky, a dizzying dance of spectacle that threatened to send the performer plummeting to the floor. Her final mid-air double back flip elicited near screams of worry from the crowd, but the smile on the aerialist’s face as she landed safely on her swing quashed any fears.
A common critique of Cirque shows is their utmost reliance on a formula that inevitably involves inserting a clown to break up the action with some “comic relief.” More often than not, these one-note clowns fall flat, but with Quidam, Toto Castineiras actually stole the show. Demonstrating versatility in the face of some interesting audience interaction, the clown bordered on inappropriate at times, which is perhaps what made his act so shockingly funny. His was a brand of humor that was mature enough for the adults in the room, but sufficiently farcical for the younger ones as well.
The costumes and sets lent themselves to Quidam’s unfussiness. A pack of acrobats emerged in grey steampunk ware, while a pair of contortionists wore nothing but their (dangerously tight) skivvies. At times, set pieces would move while new ones were introduced, but all things said, they played a far more tertiary role than they do in most Cirque productions. It was pleasing; many of the troop’s shows jam-pack their stages with bright colors, flashing lights, and elaborate contraptions, whereas Quidam demonstrated its focus on the acts alone rather than the show.
Director Franco Dragone also heeded the “silence is golden” rule in his scaled back use of Cirque’s trademark heart-pounding music. It permitted the audience to focus its rapt attention on the already breathtakingly beautiful acts unfolding onstage. The orchestra adeptly maneuvered through the understated tracks, including the Middle Eastern infused “Incantation” and the Franco-English title track.
With some surrealist inspired imagery, grounded artistry, and altogether enjoyable moments, Quidam is a quiet gem of a theatrical event. Where others sink from heaviness, this show soars with subtlety.