Robert captivated by Cirque du Soleil!

Wells | Theater

Robert's ticket stubQuidam poster

"Audience members have been captivated for years by the Cirque du Soleil. This year, though, some actually get kidnapped.

The Montreal-based theatrical, emotional, animal-free international circus has returned with a new show, "Quidam," having its American premiere under the big top at the Santa Monica Pier. While the audience is still finding its seats, the emcee (a Kramer-esque John Gilkey) selects a victim from the crowd, who is immediately whisked away by a group of white-coveralled assistants to a backstage destination. When next we see our missing audience member, moments later, he is also white-suited, and following cues as to how to act from his captors who are busy picking a new victim out of the crowd.

It's a brilliant case of using the audience as found art, with additional built-in "1984"-ish points about assimilation and social control. This is Cirque humor at its best, spontaneous, surprising and serious all at once..." -from Laurie Winer's theater review in the Los Angeles Time, September 28, 1996.

John Gilkey's head and hairJohn Gilkey standing off centerI was lucky enough to get "kidnapped" last weekend, and loved every minute of it.Vivian and Hans, my sister and brother-in-law, took me to the Santa Monica pier to see the new Cirque du Soleil production when I was visiting them for the weekend. We took our seats and the emcee started moving around in the aisles, checking out the audience. The emcee's dress, tuft of hair, and manner of moving are all strikingly eccentric, to say the least - John Gilkey is great in this role. His four assistants were covered entirely in thin white overalls with only their eyes exposed. They reminded me of the Cirinists in Dave Sim and Gerhard's epic Cerebus comic book saga - they looked very anonymous and a bit threatening. They stood silently in a line on the stage, and made smart 90 degree turns in synchrony to keep facing the side where the emcee was walking. As he approached our seats walking along the aisle directly behind us, I started alternately looking at the white figures and him, snapping my gaze back and forth. He passed behind me slowly, then doubled back and paused. Next time I looked back at him, he firmly turned my head toward the stage, and motioned for the assistants, who came and stood in a semi-circle behind me, staring down at me.

Figures covered in white, drawn by Dave SimsAfter a few seconds, the emcee jerked his thumb over his shoulder, and the assistants reached down very fast, handed my diet cola to Vivian, and lifted me straight out of my seat. They took firm hold of me horizontally with two on each side, carried me rapidly up on stage, and set me upright at the front of the stage. The audience clapped nicely. The emcee then examined me carefully, and proceeded to pull up my pants legs. Finding that my white socks were fallen down, he stood back shaking his finger "no, no, no", then pulled my socks up. The crowd loved it and roared. He examined me again, nodded, and did the thumb over the shoulder thing. The assistants instantly picked me up again and ran me back thru the center stage exit. Backstage they thanked me for being a good sport, helped me get into a white suit just like theirs, and told me just to follow at the back of the line and do what they did. We waited and in a couple of minutes the emcee gestured for us to come out again, which we did, with me just trying to look like one of the troup. He then pulled up my white leggings to check my socks again, spoiling my attempt to blend in, and getting a big laugh. We followed the emcee out into the audience, and when he had selected another "volunteer", I helped carry him back up to the stage. The emcee did the same sock checking routine with the second fellow, then we took him backstage, and they gave him a white suit that was way too small for him. We were supposed to try to hide him as we carried him back out on stage, then set him down and step back. The crowd really roared - the white suit only came halfway down his lower legs and arms, and wouldn't stretch to cover his face at all. We then all went back behind, they thanked us and helped us out of the suits, and ushers helped us back to our seats. I asked them as we were disrobing how they picked people to do this. They giggled and told us they picked the dumbest looking guys they could find... ask a silly question, get a silly answer...

Chinese girl Diabolo artistsThe circus then really started for real, and it was très fantastique! The music is distinctively other-worldly and ethereal, very dramatic. There is a small plot involving a young girl alienated from her parents, who meets a mysterious stranger with an umbrella and no head. She accepts his hat (he doesn't need it!), and enters a world of magic and mystery. The set is elegant and deceptively simple, with five pairs of gleaming track arching across the entire tent just under the big top, and little motorized dollies that move along the tracks and run lines up and down to support the aerial acts and effects.

All the acts were great, but I was particularly impressed by the four teen-aged Chinese girls who did the fanciest Diabolos act I have ever seen, throwing their spinning spools way up in the air in synchrony, juggling them back and forth in tosses to each other's strings, standing on each other in a pyramid, throwing the spool up from the top, collapsing the pyramid, and another girl catching the spool after a rollout from the pyramid. Unbelievably skillful stuff.

Couple balancing each other in slow motionI also especially liked the slow motion balancing act, where a near-nude couple supported each other and went through many minutes of slow motion evolution from one incredible position to another, demonstrating unbelievable strength and balance.

I highly recommend Quidam (or any of the other Cirque du Soleil shows) as a very entertaining evening of theater, even if you don't get to play a small role in it as I did. You can learn more about the history, current shows, tour dates and ticket availability for the Cirque du Soleil by visiting their excellent web site, Welcome to Cirque du Soleil.

Credits: I registered with the Los Angeles Times Online and paid $1.50 to retrieve the theater review from their archives. I appropriated the Quidam poster JPEG image from theCirque du Soleil Quidam site. I used a Logitech Color PageScan to scan in my ticket stub and images from the official souvenir program. The graphic image of the white covered Cirinists is from page 343 of Jaka's Story by Dave Sim and Gerhard, Aardvark-Vanaheim, 1990, ISBN 0-919359-07-8. I highly recommend it - you too might get drawn into reading the entire 9 volume, 5000+ page Cerebus work in progress, as I did this summer. Thanks to Vivian for hunting down tickets and treating me to the show!

Contact | Updated December 2, 1998.
Wells | Theater