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all words: Dana Mahr
all photos: Franz Mahr

(behind and in front of scenes with Cirque du Soleil’s latest production, which is at Verizon Center through Sunday)

It’s a time in our lives that we all remember reluctantly: the isolation, the sheer loneliness of being a child deprived of attention and creativity, it’s enough to make you want to take the bowler hat of an anonymous stranger, to enter into a world of whimsy in order to escape the mundane shuffle of the everyday.

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It is in these dark and depressing days that life ceases to exist; feelings of suffocation, trapped inside of a cage, unable to break free if only to express oneself. This theme of quiet despair coupled with the longing for childhood freedom put an interesting spin on the already fantastic performance of Cirque Du Soleil’s Quidam.

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Quidam tells the story of a young girl, Zoe, who is longing for the attention of her parents and also the individuality that comes with creative imagination. She finds herself in the presence of a mysterious headless man with only an overcoat, umbrella and bowler hat. He is every man and he is no man. He is Quidam, translating from Latin to, nameless passerby. With the bowler hat in tow, Zoe, our stifled protagonist, is lead through a world of fantasy and wonder.

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Beginning in act one when we meet our characters, we can see that Mother and Father leave more to be desired on the affection front. Father loses his head in a newspaper and Mother sits blissfully unaware of the magic surrounding her. With this, we see jaw-dropping acts of acrobatics choreographed to allude to the playfulness of childhood. Hula-hoops, and scooters, as well as jump-ropes, that was performed by the professional athletes along with the German wheel, aerial contortion in silk, and diabolos, whose performers were costumed to look like china-dolls.

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All of these things along with the symbolism of the repeatedly stressed red balloon, set the prelude of youth and beginnings of life and playfulness. At one point, the aerial contortionist actually seemed to be born out of her red silk drapes, suspended high above the stage without any regard to safety hazards.

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With this, the audience must notice all of the performers and ensemble are head to toe in an all white jumpsuit, bland and lacking in creativity. But is it that Zoe hasn’t created their costumes as of yet? Mother is, ironically, stunning in a red dress that reminds one of the recurring red balloons, present and functional in almost every scene. What’s more is that Mother and Zoe have the same bob haircut, as if the role of Mother is more than maternal, but also a foreshadowing of Zoe’s existence as an adult, boring yet clinging to the young, red balloon.

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Then, in act two the tone completely changes from the celebration of life to the slow yet eventual accepting of the ending of life. With subtle clues masked by remarkable performances such as banquine- a fifteen person award winning act, hand balancing, aerial hoops, human statues and lastly the cloud swing, the Mother can be seen holding a bird cage over the imaginary character that Zoe had grown fond of, the Target.

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An aviator with metal wings, wanders the stage, without even the desire to take flight. The audience must then figure out if this aviator is a moth, alluding to the decay of life or maybe his wings are made from the bird cage that has been repeatedly referred to?

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And then it gets serious. Mother enters the stage as several dancers in blue draped dresses and blue bags over their heads, glide across the stage. A clue of life being suffocated? The two human statues, pail in painted skin and rags wrapped around them, balancing off each other with unbelievable human strength, seem not a notice to both parents, who are met on stage with seven ghostly figures. Even the clown, the comedy tension breaker, pulls four reluctant audience members to the stage to act out a scene in which three of them die. Even in the comedy there is tragedy.

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Could the over hanging fixture that propels the aerial artists through the air, slightly resemble a birdcage? Could the entire two acts all be a creation of Zoe, or is she merely an observer, a Quidam in her own right, to this mysterious yet fantastical world? Could every single performer Zoe came across also be Quidam? These are the questions that can only be answered by going to see this amazing show.

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The talent alone is enough to be convincing; gymnast turned acrobat, Australia native Lisa Skinner has performed in three Olympic games and was approached by Cirque Du Soleil several times before she finally agreed to join the crew. That being said, there isn’t as much training as one would think that goes into making these iconic performances. Since the athletes already have the skills, cast and crew must spend only two months in Montreal for choreography training and every day after, perfecting what they have learned. With a crew that counts over one hundred members from twenty-three different countries, a family is formed over the period of time that they tour together, which could be indefinitely. Skinner states that performers don’t move around between different shows for Cirque Du Soleil because replacing each person is an enormous feat, especially considering that Quidam is booked to perform all the way through 2016.

This must-see instant classic is only in DC the 16-20.

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And a step behind the scenes:

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