Cirque du Soleil: Quidam

Cirque du Soleil is without a doubt the world’s favourite circus troupe.  And, entering its 30th year, it’s easy to see why.  Gracing the Royal Albert Hall this January, this Canadian Colossus demonstrates its excellent understanding of the body and mind, in the mystical world of Quidam.  Literally ‘an anonymous passerby’, Quidam makes no attempt at a clumsy storyline and, instead, lets the sheer talent of its performers do the talking.  Presenting each of its artistes in turn, this is a bold reinvention of the variety performances that now so often populate our television sets.  

A little girl named Zoe sits alongside her parents, bored and restless.  Suddenly, amid a rainstorm, a headless visitor arrives and gives Zoe its hat (what use does he have for it anyway?) which she uses to create a wonderful world of her imagining.  In Quidam, Zoe meets the characters she dreams of.  Colourful, fearless and with physiques that have you positively writhing with envy, these artistes provide an alternate and somewhat favourable reality.  Their refusal of all things mundane and uniform stretches into the show’s structure, doing away with both plot and linking themes.  Quidam’s reality is in fact in a constant state of flux.  As Zoe flits from one act to another, she learns that enjoying life is often easier and more rewarding than trying to make sense of it.

The performances in Quidam are of the highest calibre and while the majority of the acts are by no means original, the expertise and allure of each artiste is what makes them astounding.  One of the most striking performers is Julie Cameron, an aerial contortionist.  Combining a subtle sensuality with strength and stillness, she seemingly halts the effects of gravity and suspends blossom-like in the air held only strips of red silk.  Equally, Yves Decoste and Valentyna Sidenko elicit an awed silence from the auditorium with a stream of slow and continually moving balances.  Thankfully, this is not a circus that has forgotten to included the timeless art of clowning.  With four moderately willing members of the audience, Toto Castineiras mimes a film set and has the participants enact a ridiculously cliché yet funny sketch as he films.  His ability to mix heightened expression with exasperation and impatience has the audience laughing even as the next act begins.  As a company, Quidam’s artistes expertly tumble about the stage in a seemingly disorganised gaggle before splitting like clockwork into beautiful patterns.  With a magnificent live band, fronted by the limitless vocals of Jamieson Lindenburg, this whirlwind of style and energy adheres only to its own parameters.  
For lovers of traditional theatre and happy endings, this show will leave you somewhat dissatisfied as there is no villain, no hint of a through-line and few emotions other than boundless joy.  Quidam is a simple and unashamed celebration of both carefully honed skill and capricious childish impudence and is surely a theatrical pioneer for bringing surrealism not only to its content but to its very structure.  No other circus comes close.
Reviewed by Alex Foott
Directed by Gilles Ste-Croix
Performance date – Tuesday 7th January 2014