I took my 19-year-old granddaughter to this touring production of the Cirque de Soleil’s QUIDAM, which premiered in 1996, and is the ninth show in the Cirque’s remarkable history. It would have been nice if we had been able to fly through the air on ropes, rings, or draperies while searching for the appropriate “will call” desk to pick up our press tickets at Brooklyn’s gigantic Barclays Center, and to have leapt, cartwheeled, or flipped over the ubiquitous security guards searching bags and scanning bodies with wands. My granddaughter had never seen a Cirque de Soleil show before; a college cheerleader, she was delighted with the show’s often astonishing acrobatics, and had a thoroughly good time. I had some reservations.
If you’ve ever seen a Cirque show, you’ll know what to expect in QUIDAM. Eerie, Middle Eastern-sounding music with lyrics in a mysterious, made-up language; incredible sound and lighting effects, with smoke machines going full blast; a series of superb acrobatic acts, including eye-popping aerial stunts and balancing routines, all of them displaying not only the unbelievable things the human body is capable of, but doing so with atmospherics designed to enhance the sheer beauty of the human form. There are, of course, oddball clowns and even a theme that presumably ties everything together, but I doubt that anyone really pays much attention to these elements, which serve merely to provide a thin veneer of context to the sequence of awesome presentations. For an overview of the kind of themes and acts involved, I suggest you check the Wikipedia entry on the show: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quidam
Unlike Cirque's recent TOTEM, seen in a tent erected on the Citi Field grounds this spring, QUIDAM is being presented in huge arenas, like Barclays Center, and the show--at least at this venue--is less effective as a result. Our seats were pretty good, or would have been for a Nets game, but the stage seemed to be in a galaxy far, far away, with the faces of the performers indistinguishable from one another. Often, we were unable to tell who was male and who female. The vast space of the arena tends to depersonalize the performances when you can’t see the performers’ expressions. At TOTEM, performers roamed the aisles at certain moments. Not so here. Binoculars would be a useful item to bring along if you’re going, even if you think you’ll be fairly close.
The technical effects and costumes are less spectacular than those in TOTEM, which had particularly remarkable projections that remain embedded in my memory. There’s a very funny sketch toward the end during which three spectators are pulled from the audience to participate, hilariously, in the making of a silent movie set in a Wild West saloon. This seems to be a standard routine, however, since it also is used in OLD HATS, the Bill Irwin-David Shiner comic revue recently at the Signature Theatre. I don’t know who originated it, but its originality can certainly be questioned.
I’m not a basketball fan so it’s unlikely I would ever have visited Barclays Center were it not for a show like QUIDAM, even though this super-arena sits in a part of downtown Brooklyn very familiar to me from my childhood. (The huge box stores across the street on Atlantic Avenue used to be the locale of a major wholesale meat market where my father purchased goods for his butcher shop in the 1950s.) As this show demonstrates, however, filling so huge a space with a non-sporting event is a daunting challenge; even with large sections closed off, there still were many empty seats. I’m probably more grateful for the opportunity to have seen the place than to have seen QUIDAM, but my granddaughter was more excited about the show. After all, she’d already seen two basketball games at Barclays.