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Quidam by Cirque du Soleil at AIS Arena Canberra

Quidam. Cirque du Soleil. AIS Arena Canberra, until December 20. Bookings: premier.ticketek.com.au.

Whichever way you look at it, Quidam, which simply means "someone", is absolutely extraordinary. This show, from the renowned Montreal-based circus troupe Cirque du Soleil, had its premiere in 1996 and has been touring the world since. But it is so fresh, so exhilarating to watch, so impeccably produced and performed, so absolutely theatrical, that it looks as though it was made only yesterday.

It has just a slight story to it. A young girl, Zoe (Alessandra Gonzalez), ignored somewhat by her preoccupied parents, slips into an imaginary world, the world of Quidam, and encounters a host of characters who encourage her to enter a new and very lively world. One, called the Target (Ardee Dionisio), whose dancing skills are quite remarkable, is a companion to Zoe during her travels. This narrative, and the characters who bring it to life, provide the background for a series of astonishing and diverse circus acts. 

Some, like Cory Sylvester's acrobatic feats on the German wheel, or Julie Cameron's sensational aerial contortions performed with a swathe of scarlet silk, are solo acts. Others involve several performers. Three women (Danila Bim, Lais Camila and Lisa Skinner) perform on aerial hoops suspended from arcs of rigging above the stage space. The three achieve the seemingly impossible and move absolutely harmoniously together. A fast-paced routine with skipping ropes is led by Norihisa Taguchi and Kata Banhegyi, but brings in the whole company to turn the simple act of skipping with ropes into a fabulously lit ballet. 

Of course there is some clowning around. A section called Clown Cinema, led by Viktor Katona, involves several members of the audience acting out a cinematic plot and is absolutely hilarious. No spoilers here however, but huge bouquets to the four adventurous audience members who performed so well, acting on mimed instructions from Katona. The audience was in stitches!  

The highlight act for me was the closing sequence, Banquine, an absolutely heart-stopping and spectacular display of acrobatics from a male and female, young and old cast of 15. This particular acrobatic tradition apparently had its origins in Italy in the Middle Ages and it was so well produced and costumed by the Cirque du Soleil team that it was easy to imagine oneself in the piazza of a small Italian town centuries ago. It was just brilliant.

But as the various highlighted acts were proceeding there was other activity taking place, sometimes in the most surprising manner. In Statue for example, in which Natalia Pestova​ and Alexander Pestov​ balanced their painted bodies in the most remarkable poses, three performers attached to wires glided overhead, appearing unexpectedly and seemingly out of nowhere. They travelled the full length of the arcs of the rigging, which throughout the show were stunningly lit to become part of the set. Then, as the act concluded, they slipped smoothly back into the darkness. And so often there was beautifully choreographed movement, performed to perfection with such lyrical ease, happening upstage while the main act was taking place downstage. 

So much was made of every moment in the show. Lighting was exceptional. Costumes were flawlessly made. The show was enhanced by live music played with gusto. A revolving stage was used with such good effect. Even the exits and entrances of the performers had been carefully thought through. And watch out for a little touch of magic – red balloons keep appearing, sometimes in bunches, sometimes deflated, sometimes huge, sometimes quite small. 

Quidam is the show of the year. Don't miss it.