Astonishing artistry

Cirque du Soleil’s ‘Quidam’ visits Arena

Georgia Stephenson has seen Cirque du Soleil’s “Quidam” hundreds of times.

It’s her job. As an assistant artistic director with the famed Montreal-based contemporary circus, Stephenson tours with “Quidam,” watching it every night.

As she said in a recent phone interview, it’s her favorite Cirque production.

“I still get the chills. I still laugh out loud,” she said. “If you haven’t seen one before, it’s a really great one to be your first Cirque show.”

Cirque du Soleil is famous for its high-flying acrobatics, artistry, music and attention to character and story. “Quidam,” which opens Wednesday at the Spokane Arena for a five-day run, is one of the older Cirque productions touring, having debuted in 1996.

The show centers on a young girl, Zoe, whose parents are distant and apathetic. As a way to escape the abject boredom of her life, she finds solace in an imaginary world.

Ultimately, Stephenson said, “Quidam” is a story of human condition.

“It shows you all of the different kinds of emotions, or different stages of life that we go through,” she said. “There are very joyful moments and there are quiet, intense moments that everyone takes something different away from.”

One of the characters Zoe encounters wears an overcoat and a bowler hat, evoking an image of René Magritte’s painting “The Son of Man.” That painting, so famously used in the 1999 film “The Thomas Crowne Affair,” depicts a man wearing an overcoat and a bowler, with a green apple floating in front of his face.

Stephenson said the Magritte imagery is intentional.

“René Magritte was definitely an influence in the creation of the show,” she said. “One of the things you would see in a Magritte painting that you would see on stage in ‘Quidam’ … is you see an image in the background but there is something in front of it, kind of obscuring it. That’s demonstrated on stage just as it is in some of Magritte’s artwork.”

The show contains a number of spectacular set pieces: “Chinese YoYo,” “German Wheel,” “Aerial Contortion in Silk,” among others.

“Ironically one of the acts that I’m very proud of and is very high risk, and is the finale – we call it the ‘Banquine’ act – it uses absolutely no apparatus at all. It’s just men and women doing floor work, literally tossing people around,” she said. “It’s just sheer human strength and dexterity. And it’s stunning. When people see what they do using just the human body, it’s quite amazing.”

Still, for Stephenson some of the best moments are the smaller ones, such as a minute-long transition between acts she calls “Walking in the Air.”

“It’s one of the images you’ll remember at the end of the night,” she said. “You’ve got the Papa character, and this image of him flying out over the audience with his newspaper and this big section of red fabric and the lights come up really bright. It’s so cool.

“It’s moments like that where everything just comes together in the perfect moment, you get those chills and the hair on the back of your neck stands up. Yes, there are amazing acrobatics and aerial work, and you think, ‘How did they do that?’ But for me it’s those other parts that just bring it home.”

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