Cirque du Soleil's 'Quidam' a bit short on sizzle

Two Cirque du Soleil performers displaying their balance, flexibility, and strength. Other acts include aerialists and trapeze fliers.
Two Cirque du Soleil performers displaying their balance, flexibility, and strength. Other acts include aerialists and trapeze fliers. (MATT BEARD)
Posted: November 12, 2011

Cirque du Soleil, the international circus troupe noted for eerie live music and spectacular feats of human strength and daring, is making a brief stop at Temple University's Liacouras Center on its national tour. Quidam is one of many Cirque shows, and although it seems diminished from their circus shows I saw five or 10 years ago, including an earlier version of Quidam, there are still some reasons to gasp or murmur, "Amazing!"

The show attempts a narrative: A little bored girl at home with her parents is suddenly spirited away to a place of wonder. But the story is really irrelevant, and the very randomness of the events onstage is part of Cirque's signature surreal charm - a headless man carrying an umbrella, a parade of people in white masks and white jumpsuits, a woman twirling endlessly in one corner, a man with boxing gloves stalking the edges of the stage.

The main events are the acrobats, aerialists, rope climbers, rope jumpers, and trapeze fliers, occasionally punctuated by clowns. The show didn't really catch fire for me until the second half of the second act with "Statue" - two people of incredible strength balancing each other's body weight in slow motion - followed by "Banquine," a Russian corps of 15 men and women who fling themselves and one another into the air with breathtaking synchronized skill and daring.

There seem to be fewer acts, each with more repetition, so that even when performers are doing something amazing, it isn't actually interesting. The eye-popping costumes that Cirque du Soleil was famous for - spangles and feathers and bizarre designs - are gone, replaced by much more serviceable outfits, more like those for a gymnastic competition than an exotic pageant.

The circus was more fun, more circuslike, under the big top they used to set up on South Broad Street. The Liacouras Center was built for basketball, and its vast space isn't really suited to performance since it makes applause almost inaudible and the performers feel too far away.

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