Cirque du Soleil’s shows are visual feasts of acrobatic fantasy, and each has a different theme or storyline tying together the sequence of acts. A cheesy storyline and character, as in Zarkana, detracts a bit from a show’s impact. Not so with the venerable Quidam, now in a very short run at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. While Quidam takes up a lot of space on the big arena stage, it’s focused enough to feel intimate, perhaps because of its big top origins.
A charming opening sequence presents a bored little girl frustrated by parents who hide behind newspapers and pay her no attention. A mysterious headless visitor brings her a magical bowler hat that drops her into a world of wonders.
Acrobatics is just one element of this show’s cornucopia of physical strength, precise skills, and (just as important) emotional punch. The gracefully gyrating gymnastics of the German Wheel and the slick tricks of the Diabolo (Chinese yo-yo) lead into the stunning, gauzy beauty of Tanya Burka’s “Aerial Contortion in Silk,” in which the artist seems to fuse with the bands of red fabric on which she is suspended – the perfect word for an act as suspenseful as it is sublime. It isn’t that we worry she’ll fall; rather, we feel a delicious anxiety that transcends thought and reason, evoked purely by the twisting, stretching physical form high in the air before us. The quietude gives way to the antic energy of the delightful “Skipping Ropes,” one of Cirque’s characteristic transformations of a kids’ game into spectacular theater.
The startling sudden drops of the Spanish Web rope act give way to the most jaw-dropping part of Quidam, which is also the quietest. In “Statue” a pair of acrobats very slowly lift each other in various poses. These stupendous feats of hand and body strength form the still focal point of the second half of the show and left me speechless. “Clown Cinema” by contrast opens the comic floodgates as the masterful clown Toto Castineiras skillfully selects four audience members and puts them through a hilariously histrionic silent film scene; it may well be the greatest audience participation act I’ve ever seen.
The show closes with the Cirque staple “Banquine,” a sequence of group floor acrobatics and a happy reunification of the restless girl with her parents. In a world of digital distraction, a show full of physical and aesthetic wonders like these reminds us that within each of us still lives an imaginative child anxious to be awed.
Quidam is at Barclays Center through July 28.