Cirque du Soleil: Quidam, Royal Albert Hall, London

It might now be a global brand, but Cirque's current offering is as surreally inventive as ever

These days, Cirque du Soleil hardly needs introducing. In the 27 years since it started out in Canada, the dreamchild of a Quebec busker, it has become a global brand, a byword for glamorous thrills, a marriage of circus and rock musical that relegates all memories of sawdust and elephants to a dim and parochial past.

Its selling point isn't just the Olympic-level gymnastics. It's also the rolling theatrical concept of each show, of which six are now permanently installed in Las Vegas while a dozen others tour the world. The stars may be 100 per cent human, but the settings are strange and wild: Angela Carter in the land of commedia dell'arte, a Madonna floor show touched by the spirit of Magritte.

The current offering to the UK is Quidam, seen once before in London in a big top in 2001, but now fitting snugly into the Albert Hall. The most startling addition to the great Victorian interior is a 120ft arc of overhead tramlines which serve to glide props and artistes into position, or release streamers of scarlet satin. It's a beautiful piece of engineering, as awesome as any activity below.

Quidam, the programme tells us, means "anonymous passer-by", and the most memorable of the freaks that drift around the show's periphery is a headless man in a raincoat. But perhaps the passers-by are the audience? The cumulative effect over almost three hours is to make you feel that you – sitting in your sensible shoes – are the oddity, in a world peopled by manacled harem girls, an Amélie lookalike with a bunch of ever-expanding balloons, and bodies that do things God didn't intend.

No old-school skill escapes a makeover. The standard girly aerial act is transformed by swathes of hanging fabric, Palestrina-like choral music, and ... a man, apparently without a stitch on, writhing his splendid musculature into a vertical, liturgical bal

let, complete with crucifixion references. The juggling act is a quartet of tiny disco-dancing Chinese girls with diabolos (surely not the tiny diabolo girls from 2001? China must have a constant supply). In an act called "Statue", two Titans of their sex mould themselves into an 11ft totem pole, head-to-head, no hands. And no strings. Nor does Cirque use safety nets, or even harnesses, apart from one lanyard clip in the vertiginous rope swing.

The clowns, this time round, are disappointing, however, their material relying on audience contributions. An extended skit in which punters are hauled up to play characters in a silent film has comic potential. But that's shot to pieces when it becomes clear that the victims had been heavily primed. Given the shining honesty of the physical acts, it's an odd thing for Cirque to get wrong.

An unexpected highlight is the skipping. You thought skipping was about someone jumping rope on his feet? This is everything but, including a man bouncing repeatedly off his buttocks, and a group skip-in with multiple ropes criss-crossed in the shape of a giant star. Oh yes, and then there's the spectacular tumbling. How do catapulted bodies survive without safety nets? Search me. It happens every year and it's happened again. I start by thinking Cirque du Soleil is too slick, too expensive, just too too much. And I end up in thrall to sheer physical endeavour.



Albert Hall (020-7589 8212) till 8 Feb; touring to 19 April ( www.cirquedusoleil.com )

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Feeling all at sea: Barbara's 18-year-old son came under the influence of a Canadian libertarian preacher – and she had to fight to win him back
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Living the high life: Anne Robinson enjoys some skip-surfed soup
TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
Doctor Who and Missy in the Doctor Who series 8 finale

TV
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones