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Cirque du Soleil

Quidam Doesn't Disappoint

Everything you’ve heard about Cirque du Soleil is true. With Quidam, at the Cow Palace through April 17th, the two-and-a-half hour performance (split into two acts) starts off a bit slow, but quickly grows into a mind-bender that will leave you dazed, wondering how the human body is capable of such seemingly impossible feats.

Quidam has toured five continents in the 15 years since its world premiere in Montreal. The show’s basic premise sounds a lot like the plot of novella/film Coraline: A young girl named Zoe, bored and neglected by her parents, seeks adventure in a magical yet increasingly unsettling dream world. Only this one is inhabited by 52 contortionists, acrobats, clowns, and dancers that can pull off physical acts that would leave the rest of us with a hefty bill from SF General.

Quidam’s 16-date engagement at the Cow Palace is part of a new arena tour that has forgone the requisite Big Top, and while most of the segments are beyond entrancing enough to make you forget your surroundings, sometimes the setting feels a little impersonal and the performers far away.

Many of the same characters shift in and out of scene repeatedly — from the whimsical, childlike John to the Magritte-esque Quidam, a tall, headless figure with bowler hat and umbrella — but the show is more enjoyable if you don’t try to follow the storyline and instead view it as a wild circus-going experience.

Highlights of the first act include the Aerial Contortion in Silk, where artist Isabelle Vaudelle twists and turns within a large column of red silk, disappearing and emerging and finally gliding down into another performer’s arms in what looks symbolic of a funeral ritual. You won’t easily forget the haunting transitional scene of the father in the storyline suspended from above, walking slowly and purposefully through the air before shredding the newspaper he uses to hide from the world. The elaborate Skipping Ropes sequence is like watching a playground of acrobatic prodigies at recess.

But Quidam really saves the best for last, ramping things up in the second and final hour with Statue, a spectacularly beautiful segment that had the audience in complete silence, aside from bouts of relieved applause as artists Anna Vicente and Jerome Le Baut performed amazing balancing acts with the utmost concentration, holding each other up at times with nothing more than their shoulders or a single arm.

Both acts were injected with a dose of much-appreciated comic relief by artist Toto Castineiras, a stout, silent clown who shanghaied a few members of the floor audience for some good old-fashioned laughter at someone else’s expense. Luckily, said audience members played along perfectly and made it hilarious.

The Banquine finale act almost surpassed the Statue in its gasp-inducing factor. Fifteen artists performed choreographed acrobatic and human pyramid sequences — basically throwing each other around like rag dolls or basketballs during a practice drill, and somehow making it look graceful.

If you’ve been skeptical about Cirque du Soleil or just haven’t had a chance to check it out, snatch up a ticket to Quidam before they pack up their trailers on April 17. But buyers of floor tickets: beware the clown.