Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Cirque du Soleil: a magical blend of wonder

I have just been to see Quidam at the Royal Albert Hall in London.  It turns out that I've seen the show once before - but I have been so blown away by the performances that I must say I just can't remember.  Sounds a bit silly ?   I find the shows so uber stimulating with often three interesting things going on on stage at the same time that I find the experience totally absorbing and totally enthralling.  After two showings and benefitting from after the event summaries of party members own interpretations, I'm still none the wiser.  And, you know what ?   I don't care.  

You get amazingly colourful, weird and exaggerated costumes.  A buzz of Frenchish music, that is more about tempo, passion and intensity.  You get delightful changes of pace, deliberately slow juxtaposed with quick movements, but never average or normal.  Multi-individual poses that singularly are nothing, but carried out in concert are immensely powerful and deliberate.  You eventually sense the familiar introduction, performance and withdrawal of the circus acts.  But all around are clowns, actors, dancers, performers providing enduring, stimulating and intriguing peripheral activity that means you eye is in constant motion to see what is going to happen ? where ? next ?  A performer stands perfectly still in costume, over sized brown trousers, braces, characterised boots and a battered leather suitcase.  You look once.  You look over again, still motionless.  Then you are drawn by the movement of another actor who bumps into the static figure, who then performs a jelly wobble exaggerated reaction and becomes still, to find the leather case pops open (as if by its own accord) and out floats a small, spherical and bright red helium ballon that bobbles into the lighting set.  

My friend and agent provocateur, Peter, an avid reader of this blog, led to our discovery of 'Cirque' as we call it.  He recalls "Stumbling across the show at The Mirage that time was so fortuitous. Imagine what we'd have missed out on over the proceeding years had Siegfried or Roy been well, or not on holiday, or whatever it was that meant they were dark."  We had just arrived in Treasure Island at the head of the new Las Vegas strip, in sight of some of the old hotels (the Dunes, now blown up) that effectively founded this area of barren desert as the de facto entertainment capital of USA.  This was back before the days of direct flights from Europe to Nevada's gaming centre.  The newish MGM Grand was one of the first mega hotels, with an incredible 1,000 rooms and opposite was the pyramid shaped Luxor.  Awesome, tacky, amazing.  We had flown in over Los Angeles (best transited, I find) and suffering serious jet lag several of our party were keen to crash.  Party animal Peter wanted to hit the shows and max out every opportunity.  I was extremely dubious about the camply Teutonic White Tiger show at Caesars Palace that appeared to the the 'must see' show.  I felt major league cheese of flailing arms and bravado around risky human interactions with tortured 300kg jungle beasts.  Lucky for us the show was 'dark', we couldn't quite tell what this really meant, but Peter was determined to expose us to theatrical culture and thus we blindly went into Cirque du Soleil's Mystere.  "Like a circus, but no animals.  It's cool".  At least the seats were big, padded and there was icy air conditioning to keep us awake.

Being unexpected, and sensational, it was an amazing $65 show, one we eulogised to many of our friends about.  Since this first mid-1990's encounter I've been to as many shows as I can, including venues in Zurich, Hong Kong, Frankfurt, Orlando, four in Las Vegas itself, as part of my stag weekend in Washington DC and now London.  We nearly made it to Iris in Hollywood, but the show closed days before we arrived. We have watched as this French-Canadian franchised reinvention of the circus business model, rather emasculated by societal views on watching performing animals, just grow and grow. 

A story I want to tell more of.....