At the end of November and during the early part of December, if you happen to run into an unusual number of young athletic men and women in historic downtown Fayetteville, speaking in languages from all over the world, accompanied by equally passionate and interesting people — you should know the Cirque du Soleil is in town! Performing in all the major cities around the world, Quidam, a production by the Cirque du Soleil, is in Fayetteville for eight performances Nov. 30 – Dec. 4 at the Crown Coliseum.
Cirque’s reputation is one of exceptional artistry, special effects, costuming and remarkable acrobats. So, being able to hang out with Jessica Leboeuf, the publicist for Quidam, before it arrived in Fayetteville, was a recent and quite remarkable experience. My task was to experience different facets of the production company before joining 4,000 other people in Washington D.C., who had purchased tickets to see Quidam.
What I learned backstage exudes in the performance. Passionate artists, acrobats, extremely skilled light and sound technicians, performers, high-art clowns, costume designers and choreographers have created a two-hour magical place for people of all ages to enjoy. Quidam is a faraway place where anything is possible — from acts of human strength to sublime human sensitivity; where the every day is quite remarkable and the dream believable.
Before the performance, I watched Banquine, a troupe of mostly Russian and Ukrainian acrobats practice their breath-taking performance — you will easily recognize them on stage as they methodically fling and flip each other through the air, landing on the multiple tiers of a human structure.
Gabriel Dubé-Dupris, the general stage manager, explains that performances can change night to night due to the practice sessions. He noted, “Performances are organic and can change night to night. All performers have to be feeling 100 percent before they go on stage. Everyone in the troupe and the trainer has to feel their practice session was exactly where it needed to be in order for them to perform. In the interest of safety, we can alter who is performing what for the evening.”
I was able to interview Ana Ostapenko, a young athlete and acrobat from the Ukraine who performs with impeccable balance and amazing strength on the balancing canes. She, like Jessica Leboeuf and Gabriel Dubé-Dupris, exuded the joy and passion of having a career with the Cirque du Soleil.
The production company includes a traveling team that plans and carries out the logistics of the production. Then there is the training, practicing and performances that last 10 weeks. After that rigorous time on the road, the performers return home or take a vacation for two weeks — then they hit the road again.
For Cirque to come to Fayetteville, a lot of work is involved. The production company travels with a chef, all the sets, lights, costumes, weight-training equipment, technicians, washers and dryers and whatever else is needed to rebuild the set, scaffold, light and sound for the performers to begin practicing again.
The arch overhead in Quidam is moved and installed in each location. It is constructed of five all-aluminum rails for an overall length of 120 feet. Each rail of the arch houses two trolleys that run from one end of the structure to the other. One is used to transport performers and acrobatic equipment and the other raises or lowers them to the appropriate height and position for the particular act. The stage floor alone has more than 200,000 perforations to create special effects with the lighting.
Quidam is dramatic from the opening performance to the finale. The story begins with a young girl named Zoé who is bored; her parents seem distant and are ignoring her. Her life is forever changed as she opens the door to the “nameless passerby.” From that moment on, Zoé and everyone in the audience experiences the possibilities of the imagination and the idea that anything is possible!
From aerial acrobats to high-art clowns, the performance is multi-centered and layered, always shifting from the poetic and graceful to the seemingly impossible. A door opens on top of the stage with something humorous and unexpected; then, with an ease of transition, Jerome Le Baut and Asa Kuniak do a routine of sheer artistry and strength as they lift, carry and become entwined with each other as one. In the end, each performance lends itself to be interpreted by all the members of the audience.
During the performance, I heard the gasps of people in the audience as the acrobats did unbelievable feats of balance and strength; I found myself in awe at the talent and strength of the athletes. As well, I could hear the laughter of small children who found the silliest and simplest of things very funny. So funny, they would laugh out loud without hesitation, yet remain quiet as a mouse when anything dangerous was being performed above their heads or on stage.
Even the joy of skipping rope becomes artful in Quidam. What begins as two solo performances of jumping rope builds to more complicated rope jumping. As the rope beats time, the performance has been choreographed into an ever increasing manipulation of skill, rhythm and sound by 20 acrobats.
A gymnastic exercise, the German Wheel performance by Cory Sylvester, in the first act is unforgettable. Sylvester becomes a human spoke as he spins, turns, twists and maneuvers in an eight foot wheel on the stage. In his performance, Sylvester performs gravity-defying acrobatics.
There is always something happening on stage and above stage. Something is being lifted, lowered, swinging or hanging in the air. In Quidam, the Spanish web is an aerial group act. Artists fly over the stage, then drop into stillness, stopped only by the ropes around their waists or ankles. I just kept thinking “Don’t they need a net?”
For me, Quidam was a symbolic mix of dark and light, depth and surface, slap-stick and the dramatic. The production is a synthesis of traditional performance styles from around the world. We are each drawn into the performance with the music, lighting, costumes, the strength of the acrobats and the mystery of the story. In the end, it is a roller coaster ride of the unexpected and imagined seamlessly choreographed to become believable.
For more information or to purchase tickets, visit www.atthecrown.com.