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
Sunday 11 January 2009
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 )
Film Hollywood's new leading lady talks about her Ramsay Street days
Oscar voter speaks outfilm
Review: Broadchurch episode 7TV
JK Rowling's story is a far better drama than it is a bookTV
Art Police investigate abuse sent to Paul Cummins over Tower of London installation
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Liam Gallagher brands Kanye West 'utter s**t' during BRIT Awards performance
- 2 Isis burns thousands of books and rare manuscripts from Mosul's libraries
- 3 People who sleep more than eight hours are more likely to have a stroke, research shows
- 4 Kanye West climbs on table at Nando's to crowd chants of 'Yeezus' before Brit Awards 2015 performance of 'All Day'
- 5 Muslim women's rights campaigner writes heartfelt letter to girls thinking of joining Isis
Alien 5: Sigourney Weaver will reprise Ripley role in new movie, says director Neill Blomkamp
Madonna falls off stage at Brit Awards – and then nails her performance
Brits 2015: Pharrell Williams only non-white winner as music awards follow Oscars 'white wash'
The Reading & Leeds 2015 line-up if it only included bands with female members looks pretty sparse
Wolf Hall finale, review: Simply brilliant TV
Oscars 2015: Birdman beats Boyhood as Eddie Redmayne and Patricia Arquette win big - as it happened
New theory could prove how life began and disprove God
Half of Ukip voters say they are prejudiced against people of other races
'Cash for access' scandal: Sir Malcolm Rifkind says 'unrealistic' for MPs to live on £67,000 salary
Aqsa Mahmood branded a 'disgrace' by her parents after claims she recruited three UK girls flying to Middle East
Ukraine crisis: 'One miscalculation, and Britain faces an existential threat to our whole being...'