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Le freak, c’est chic

Posted on January 8, 2014

Cirque du Soleil’s combination of oddity, artistry and virtuosity in Quidam at the Royal Albert Hall on January 7 wows Marianka Swain

00 square-cirque-du-soleilThe wilfully obtuse title of this mind-bending show refers to an anonymous passer-by who escapes the crowd by proclaiming their individuality, but it’s more a celebration of the exceptional than the average, unless we all have within us the ability to dangle from the ceiling in a precarious, eye-watering rotating split.

Quidam follows a long tradition of bored children wandering into magical worlds and, as story is not Cirque du Soleil’s strong suit, that entry is the extent of the plotting. However, the little girl’s escape from indifferent parents does provide some striking images in this DalĂ­-esque otherworldly dreamscape, such as their entire living room suddenly taking flight or her perpetually newspaper-reading father silently walking on air, paper plastered to his face.

Director Franco Dragone and choreographer Debra Brown create a relatively seamless production, although both background players and transitional clowning border on irritating. Like a jukebox musical attempting narrative, sometimes you feel it would be best to let the hits speak for themselves.

And what hits they are. Quidam packs in 11 jaw-dropping acts featuring world-class performers putting a new twist on old tricks. Cory Sylvester makes a gymnastic exercise wheel effortlessly cool,
casually standing on the frame through a series of risky rotations and bouncing in and out of strangely elegant flips.

Wei Liang Lin takes the diabolo, essentially a Chinese yo-yo, and gives us musicality and swagger, sending the bright-green spool flying into the sky, whirling it around his dancing limbs and then 00 statue act photos matt beard and costumes dominique lemieux ladding another, and another, until they’re a haze of colour, like a weather vane spinning madly in a gale.

The house troupe brings buoyant energy to a skipping rope act, which is certainly not child’s play. Double Dutch ropes blur as magnetic Norihisa Taguchi tumbles and turns in double, triple time, and a slickly co-ordinated group trade tricks, showing off with push-ups and jump splits. That high-voltage teamwork gets an encore in Banquine, featuring impossible human pyramids, simultaneous throws, and the Dirty Dancing lift achieved by a man standing on top of two others, the girl flying into his outstretched hands.

The aerial displays are magnificent against the hall’s dome, fearless performers appearing like gods in the heavens. With no safety net, there’s a gripping sense of jeopardy, balanced by the alien beauty of the movement.

Danila Bim, Lais Camila and Lisa Skinner bring gorgeous shaping to their hoop turn (pictured top), with absolute precision in the sync work, while the Spanish web artists entwine on one rope, seamlessly changing positions mid-air, before unleashing their strength in a canon of controlled spiralling. Most astonishing is Julie Cameron, emerging from her silk cocoon like a butterfly, stretching and contorting with white limbs gleaming against the blood-red silk in one extraordinary act of expression.

Not every piece is a winner, with Patrick MacGuire’s juggling a tad predictable and rubber-limbed Anna Ostapenko lacking the charisma to take her balancing beyond a series of poses. Curiously, the show-stopping act is the most stripped-back: Yves Decoste and Valentyna Sidenko’s Statue (pictured above), two bodies enjoined in exquisite harmony. Never losing their connection, they unfurl into strange shapes, necks welded together as they stretch out into an upside-down lift that is a perfect, utterly surreal mirror image. It’s partnering at its spine-tingling extreme: two performers combining to create liquid fire.

Cirque’s flashy acrobatics may be too Vegas for some, but as a place of sheer wonder, this is simply unbeatable.

 

Photographs: Matt Beard

Costumes: Dominique Lemieux

Nicola Rayner was editor of Dance Today from 2010 to 2015. She has written for a number of publications including The Guardian, The Independent and Time Out Buenos Aires, where she cut her teeth as a dance journalist working on the tango section. Now acting editor of Discover Britain magazine, she continues to dance everything from ballroom to breakdance, with varying degrees of success.

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