The audience was (quite mercifully) spirited away from the notoriously uncomfortable seats of the Breslin Center and catapulted into a colorful adventure of self-discovery, bizarre and beautiful, yet charmingly intimate in its nonverbal storytelling of the tale of a girl who begins the show lonely, quiet and withdrawn and finishes the performance as an active, vibrant star.
The transformation of young Zoe begins when a large, headless man barges into the dull living room where her parents are more interested in napping and reading the newspaper than paying attention to their forlorn daughter. This quite literally opens the door to a host of other strange and fantastic imaginary characters to flood the arena, as the world as she knows it floats away and the place she is longing for takes center stage.
The shy tentativness of a child experiencing something for the first time is captured beautifully as Zoe wavers between embracing the adventure and withdrawing into the shadows to watch safely from the sidelines. But the animated dancing, spinning, jump-roping, yo-yoing and hula-hooping characters are playful and charismatic enough to capture her curiosity and draw her out of her shell.
The lighthearted acts are kept in check by intense darker performances highlighting internal struggle and turmoil. In one scene, a lone woman hangs perliously from a flowing red silk rope, continously tangling and un-tangling herself while contorting, spinning, flipping and dangling dangerously high above the stage, holding on only by the complicated twisting and turning of the cascading cord. In another, a trio of acrobats spin and rotate through the air on hanging hoops, eliciting gasps from the audience as they are propelled away from the stage, out and above the wide-eyed spectators.
The astoundingly elaborate maneuvers accomplished by the performers require years — sometimes decades — of training to perfect, but some sequences in the show are created in mere minutes.
The audience plays its own role in the development of the performance during several interactive scenes in which spectators are chosen to go up on stage and join the show. In one scenario, comedic relief is provided by a charming lady-loving pantomime as he attempts to go on a hot date with audience member Lisa Twenter.
“Oh my God, is this happening to me?” she said she remembered thinking, as the spotlight centered on her and she was beaconed onto the stage and presented with a single red rose.
At first she was nervous, but the performer gave her hilariously obvious clues that she said made it “very easy to play along.”
“Usually, I’m thinking ‘Don’t pick me! Don’t pick me!’ when something like that happens, but it was really fun,” she said with a laugh.
Zoe’s journey continues to unfold as she meets astonishing acrobats, quickly flipping and stacking into complex human pyramids as well as a duo of extremely diciplined performers who hold mind-bendingly complex balancing positions for far longer than what seems humanly possible.
“It’s almost impossible to imagine doing that. It’s amazing what the human body can do,” Twenter said after the show, as she shook her head in amazement.
Everything from the intricate hand-made costumes of the performers to the powerful music performed throughout the show by a live band comes together seamlessly in “Quidam,” creating an endearing performance that explores the wonderous highs and dark, moody lows experienced by an individual struggling to find happiness and identity in an unpredictable world.
Cirque du Soleil: “Quidam”
Jack Breslin Arena, Michigan State University
7:30 p.m. Thursday, May 24 and Friday, May 25; 3:30 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, May 26; 1 and 5 p.m. Sunday, May 27