In this tent, nobody’s anonymous


Cirque du Soleil shows are not an average experience. Quidam, with its blend of athletics and music is a show that should not be missed by any art, music or circus lover.

Quidam is a Latin word meaning anonymous passer-by, but it is also the name of a Cirque du Soleil show currently residing in a large blue and yellow tent, the Grand Chapiteau, in the parking lot of Tropicana Field. And while the show addresses such issues as anonymity and isolation, Cirque du Soleil passing through St. Petersburg cannot be ignored.

The Montreal-based circus troupe premiered Quidam Thursday night to a packed house. The show, incorporating more than 50 performers from 10 countries and requiring more than 40 hours of setup time in each city, tells a story through music, acrobatics, dance and acting. Everyone who sees Quidam walks away with a different impression of what the show is about and that is Cirque’s goal. Audience members are not passive participants when seeing a Cirque du Soleil show; they are an active element that must engage their brains.

Quidam, as with other Cirque shows, opens with a clown act. The “ringmaster,” John, played by Mark Ward, brings his performance to the audience, interacting with patrons as they take their seats. His antics run the gamut from confiscating one audience member’s cell phone to polishing another’s bald head with his sleeve. John is easily the most endearing character in the show, and his presence gives the audience a sense of continuity as things become increasingly fragmented.

The first act of the show is the German Wheel, performed by Shayne Courtright, and is unbelievable in its intricacy, until it is outdone by subsequent acts. Courtright manipulates the wheel with artistry and precision and gives the audience its first taste of what is to come. The performers that follow have a unique ability to blend artistry with drama and athleticism with grace, making it obvious that this isn’t the average circus.

By utilizing a mixture of music, drama, dance and athletics, Cirque du Soleil strives to engage all the senses, often all at once; Quidam is no different.

The blending of all of these factors creates a pastoral scene that changes from calm to exciting to frightening within a drumbeat. With its unique staging and unparalleled composition, Quidam breaks all the boundaries of what a “show” is and brings the audience into its world of “sur”-reality.

Quidam has its lighter moments, including what is known as a Cirque staple, a trio of clowns. Their actions are at once playful and poignant, but no matter what they do, it elicits laughter from the audience.

Move over clowns and enter the tortured soul or at least the appearance of one. Isabelle Chasse enters suspended from the carrier above the stage, sheathed in a nude-colored body suit and wrapped in long and wide red scarves that trail to the stage, some 30 feet below. Her twists and turns, as she manipulates the red fabric, seem to illustrate pain, loneliness and longing. Coupled with the music, the act brings about a sense of grief, which is even more darkly colored when she lowers herself to the stage and is carried off by three other women, all dressed in red.

Red is a thematic element in Quidam that signifies happiness and pain in various settings. The profundity of the red is enhanced by the use of balloons. Initially introduced as a toy for the clowns, the red balloons soon become staples for the rest of the performers. At the end of the first act, all the performers release the red balloons, which float to the ceiling as they fall to the stage. This release gives the impression of taking one’s creative spirit and completely using it up, until there is nothing left but an empty shell.

The show hinges on the little girl, played by Denise Gonzalez, who adds a sense of innocence to the sadness. She is at once playful and inquisitive, and the sweetness of her singing voice lightens the darker moments. The show centers on her and her own journey of self-discovery. She is the one who encounters the anonymous, headless stranger; she is the one who engages John in play, and she is the one who laughs most heartily at the clowns as they make their gestures more and more over the top. The little girl serves to unite the show with a theme of discovery, and while she at times appears scared, and at other times appears happy, it is her emotions that clue the audience in to what is happening.

Quidam is a show about the people we meet and how they affect our lives. Through the little girl’s interaction with various strangers, the audience is shown in bright, vibrant colors that no matter what the setting or the interaction, everyone we meet plays a role in our lives. In that way, no one can be quidam; no one is anonymous.

St. Petersburg will be Quidam’s final North American stop before it crosses the Pacific to start its Japanese tour. The international reputation of Cirque du Soleil cannot be ignored, and it wasn’t. St. Petesburg Mayor Rick Baker was in attendance and opened the show with a short speech, welcoming the troupe of performers to the area, where they will make their home for the next month.

Cirque du Soleil has gained its prestigious reputation due to unparalleled performers and performances. If Quidam is anything to judge by, it is a reputation well deserved.

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