Quidam, Cirque du Soleil, Battersea Power Station, London

Erotic and dangerous but too little spit and sawdust in this gutless circus
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The Independent Culture

Me, I've always been with Nellie the elephant when it comes to circuses. It's all very impressive, but a little goes a long way – it's very soon time to pack your trunk and head back to the jungle.

Cirque du Soleil have done their best to reinvent the spit and sawdust, making it post-modern, smell-free and awash in champagne and souvenir stalls. In the end, what they've achieved is more of a rebranding exercise, rendering it somehow gutless, making you wonder not so much How Can They Do That? as How Much Longer Are They Going To Do It For? Without the rough-and-readiness, without the rusty scaffolding or dung-spattered trapeze, circus tricks become strangely pointless.

Worse still, this is internationalised Euro-circus. Instead of letting the artistes bound on and do their stuff, it is all clothed in a faux portentousness. Or is it just a device to string out the few moments of truly ineffable skill? Whatever, there are endless sequences of weirdly costumed, sub- balletic figures prancing across the stage or enacting incomprehensible scenarios.

And everything is accompanied by sub-Peter Gabriel Euro-rock. Given a few moments' silence, some of the truly impressive acts might have become genuinely memorable. Only the Diabolos – spun and thrown by four scarily robotic Chinese girls – did not suffer for the music. But the Olga Korbut-style handbalancing or the Spanish webs might have made us hold our breath if only the grinding music had allowed us some respite. In the second half, there were moments of silence and it made you realise how much you need to hear the slither of ropes, the creak of muscles and the Wows of the audience.

What's more, you need an MC to tell you how dangerous it is, how difficult, how unrepeatable. And you need genuinely stupid clowns, not these out-takes from a 1970s Silver Rose of Montreux compilation.

And as if the music isn't numbing enough, why is every act accompanied by strangely garbed figures slowly gyrating upstage? What does it add? Why was the truly impressive statue act – a man and a woman balancing all over each other, stomach muscles of steel – accompanied by three half-unwrapped mummies?

And what about the kids? My nine-year-old tried to enjoy it but said: "It's a bit grown-up – not in the understanding sort of way – but when that lady was on the rope, it went on for ages." Of course, what he was missing about the "Aerial Contortion in Silk" was its undeniable sexiness – Isabelle Vaudelle is an eroticised ragdoll dangling and twirling from a simple shaft of red silk. But, I agree with him, after a couple of minutes you'd had enough. Yes, it was simultaneously erotic and dangerous, but like those once-in-a-lifetime sexual positions, the sheer anxiety dulls all possibility of pleasure.

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