Cirque Du Soleil Delves Into the Secret Lives of Strangers

Cirque Du Soleil Delves Into the Secret Lives of Strangers Is it theatre with circus or circus with theatre? Is it dance or is it a musical? No, I don't ever want to put [Quidam] in a box...I think it's funny to say that you can't," Cirque Du Soleil's artistic director Andrew Watson explained, attempting to categorize his group's new piece Quidam.
Scenes from Cirque Du Soleil's Quidam
Scenes from Cirque Du Soleil's Quidam (Photo by Photos by Al Seib)

Is it theatre with circus or circus with theatre? Is it dance or is it a musical? No, I don't ever want to put [Quidam] in a box...I think it's funny to say that you can't," Cirque Du Soleil's artistic director Andrew Watson explained, attempting to categorize his group's new piece Quidam.

The ninth Cirque Du Soleil show, Quidam, begins performances April 8 at the troupe's "blue and yellow Big Top" in Battery Park City. The show is set to run through June 14.

For this show, as for most Cirque shows, there is a governing theme. The meaning here lies buried in the Latin word "quidam".

A quidam, according to the show program, is "a nameless passer-by, a solitary figure lingering on a street corner, a person rushing past."

According to Watson, Quidam grew out of what was going on around the world. "What started us this time was the loss of individuality, the anonymity of people. There was Rwanda, Bosnia; there were all these awful things happening...We'd hear about 100,000 refugees--this just becomes a figure to us...100,000 people is made up of 100,000 individuals all with their own past, future, and present, all different from everybody else," he said.

Other influences included the Belgian painter Rene Magritte (obvious in the show's art work, depicting a headless man standing against a brick wall and carrying an umbrella) and the work of French photographer Robert Doisneau.

To demonstrate, Watson stood and pointed out the window at people below. In pictures such as "The Kiss (Hotel Du Ville)," Doisneau managed to take a group photo, yet focus the viewer's attention on a single person.

"You'd see a whole group -- he'd zoom in and suddenly, you'd see out of the group -- that everyone down there has their own story," he said.

Such is the goal of Quidam.

Part of the revelation of the theme lies in its story. Although not scripted in the traditional sense, Quidam, of all the Cirque shows, has the most story. There are definite, consistent characters -- a little girl, her father and mother -- and there is a sense of place, although the audience is left to wonder if the child has created the world in her head or if it physically exists.

"You're never quite sure who is in whose dream," Watson said.

The sense of disorientation is deliberate. He explained, "We really do avoid telling a specific story because the public wouldn't be able to dream it and then make their own interpretation."

Quidam began its performing life on April 24, 1996 at the Cirque's home base in Montreal, Canada. Since then, Watson has watched the show change and grow.

Sometimes, however, a piece can evolve, but not within the concept of the show. Because of these changes, Watson and all of the designers visit the show usually once per city, partially to stimulate the artists, partially to clean the show up.

"Things can go millimeter by millimeter over a month period and then suddenly a scene in the show doesn't mean what it did because an entrance got a little bit later, a little later, a little bit later and that can change the whole balance of what's happening on stage," Watson said.

Experimentation is still encouraged. Watson said there was no fear for the artists to try new things on stage. New ideas are added as they fit the theme.

Watson knows what it's like to work the Cirque from both sides of the tent as he himself used to perform with them as a trapeze artist. He joined in the 1987-88 tour and learned to tango and work with masks. Also on tour, he observed an artistic director for the first time.

After a year, he returned to the regular circus circuit, but found himself bored and missing the group work of the Cirque.

"You felt like you were part of a show and we were all working together to make that show work, not just 'I don't care about the show; I want my act to work and I hope to get paid next week'," Watson said.

Watson then ran into Cirque founding president Guy Laliberte at a circus festival in Monoco. The Cirque was thinking of expanding and needed a creative department. Laliberte hired Watson for casting and act formation and Gilles Ste Croix as artistic director.

What began as two people then is now staffed by 45. Watson's original casting job is now done by 20 people.

Watson then spent a year on the road as an artistic coordinator before returning to find Ste Croix offering him his job as artistic director.

Working for the Cirque will keep its artistic director busy. Future plans include a movie version of Alegria, an aquatic show based in Las Vegas, and a new resident show at Walt Disney World in Orlando.

As for Quidam, it will continue its tour on through Chicago, Washington, D.C., and Atlanta.

Tickets for the New York production can be purchased by calling the Admission Network USA at 1-800-678-5440. Prices range from $31.50 to $59.50 for adults and $15.75 to $41.75 for children. The show runs through June 14 in NY.

-- By Christine Ehren