Perfect Tent

Cirque du Soleil scores again!


The UMB Bank Pavilion parking lot, off I-70 at the Earth City Expressway.

Presented by Cirque du Soleil through October 22. Tickets are $35 to $70 (discounts for children, students and seniors). Call 514-790-1245 or 800-678-5440 or visit www.cirquedusoleil.c om.

Put down your remote and forget about reality television — Cirque du Soleil is in town with a show that tests the limits of human ability. Talk about your Fear Factor — how about people dropping from ropes suspended 120 feet over your head? And forget about Real World — this show brings audience members onstage to create hilarious scenes that are much more entertaining.

Quidam brings together the customary Cirque package of circus, dance, music and theatrical elements, but what makes this production unique is the suggestive storyline, which allows the audience to create as much plot as they desire.

Quidam begins with a "typical family" — Dad reading the newspaper, Mom absorbed in listening to the radio and a little girl trying to get their attention. Suddenly a marvelous apparition appears: a headless man carrying an umbrella and a magic hat (the White Rabbit, leading Alice down the hole), and the girl enters a world of wonder. Throughout the marvelous circus acts that follow, the Girl, Mom and Dad keep appearing, sometimes watching, sometimes participating. The characters seem to be going through a process of learning and changing, so when they come together at the end of the show, they seem wiser and more connected to each other.

Or if you'd rather, you can ignore the story and simply enjoy the fantastic acts, many of which seem to transform children's games and toys into an extreme art form. A huge spinning wheel becomes a thrilling exploration of centrifugal force. Four girls playing with diabolos (a.k.a. Chinese yo-yos) show amazing ingenuity and dexterity, while a group of twenty acrobats create mind-boggling combinations with jump ropes. Swings, hoops, ropes and long ribbons of fabric suspend performers from the five conveyor rails that run along the ceiling of the Big Top (or, if you prefer, Grand Chapiteau). These aerialists challenge gravity and take the notion of rope climbing or swinging to (literally) new heights.

Standing out among the outstanding performances are the "Statue — Vis Versa" duet. Jerome LeBaut and Asa Kubiak use strength and balance to support each other in seemingly impossible poses, showing that two bodies working together in harmony can do much more than two individuals on their own. The acrobatic "Banquine" number, which is the show's finale, could be subtitled "Toss the Little Blond Girl Around." Towers of male acrobats flip a blond-wigged girl back and forth and ultimately build a three-person tower onto which a fourth performer flips and lands.

The Argentinean clown Guillermo Toto Castineiras ruled the evening with his two interactive scenes. In the first, he pulled a woman from the audience and took her on a date; in the second, he used four audience members as actors in a movie, teaching them their parts with side-splitting results. Castineiras is so skilled that he made his work seem easy — but it's clear that his spot-on timing and ability to bring out the clown in others is the result of years of experience.

Quidam is Latin for an anonymous passer-by. If you arrive early enough, you'll see a lone figure wandering through the audience cloaked in a beige jumpsuit and head-covering so that only his eyes peek out (he looks like a lost worker from a nuclear power plant). Watch him watching others pass by. Even if you make eye contact with him, he still seems somehow alone. This haunting image, combined with the evocative music, drama and scene transitions, pushes Quidam well beyond a showcase of virtuoso artists. Director Franco Dragone, composer Benoit Jutras and artistic director Nicolette Naum, along with an outstanding team of set, lighting, costume and sound designers, have created a show that raises questions. Some are simple, like "Who is that beige-suited guy?" And "Why does a headless man need a hat?" Some are more provocative: "How much of life passes me by?" "Can I see the remarkable in the everyday?"

This is circus with a soul, and it's a unique and unforgettable experience.

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