Smile Politely

Behind the Scenes of Cirque du Soleil: Quidam at Assembly Hall

Acrobats flip, aerialists twirl high above the stage, and clowns entertain the audience. But this is no ordinary circus. Quidam, a touring show by Cirque du Soleil, brings its dynamic, breathtaking (literally), and gravity-defying act to Assembly Hall this weekend. The show follows a loose storyline, telling the tale of a young girl, Zoé, who longs for fun and excitement and is brought into the imaginary world of Quidam, meeting colorful characters along the way.

I’m a bit of a Cirque fanatic — I’ve seen three of their Las Vegas shows, one of them twice (seriously, if you go to one show in Vegas, make it LOVE), so I jumped at the opportunity to go behind the scenes to watch the technicians and performers set up and rehearse. I also attended the performance that evening, and was amazed at how the show came together and was made to look effortless.

Quidam arrived in Champaign on Tuesday, the day before the show opened. The show brings its entire stage, equipment, and costumes to every city it visits, along with 100 cast and crew members from 22 countries. Fifteen trucks brought the show to Champaign, taking 12 hours to unload and construct. Assembly Hall’s unconventional layout and lack of a large backstage area presented a challenge as well. “We had to come up with creative solutions,” said Jessica Leboeuf, publicist for the show, including converting one of the show’s trucks into a wardrobe and makeup room.

Photo by Meghan Whalen

Despite the obstacles, the afternoon’s rehearsal ran smoothly. I watched two aerialists twirl and flip through hoops suspended above the stage. Seeing the performers up close, without over-the-top costumes and makeup, made it clear how much effort, training, and endurance goes into creating this show. “Learning the choreography takes a few months,” says Leboeuf. “Training takes years.”

Photos by Meghan Whalen

This dedication and precision was also evident in the skipping ropes routine in Quidam, in which 20 acrobats perform both as a group and individually. Kata Banhegyi, a soloist in the number, has been perfecting her talents since she was a child. A native of Hungary, she started jumping rope at six years old, and soon began competing in the sport, winning the World Championships three times and the European Championships five times. She joined Quidam in 2005. “The show is almost every day, with two days off per week,” she said. In addition, “I train twice a week with the group and train solo every day, skipping and conditioning.”

Banhegyi’s dedication is apparent — she jumps so fast and so precisely that it’s difficult to follow all of her movements. She and the other skippers almost look like they’re on fast-forward, moving quickly from one trick to the next. “Skipping is a very lively act,” she said. “My character is a happy one,” bringing to life the joy of being a child, playing and having fun.

Besides the rope-skipping and the aerial hoops routines, Quidam packs in a wide variety of incredible acts, all done without nets or harnesses. The aerial acts have always been my favorite parts of Cirque shows, and Quidam is no exception. Isabelle Vaudelle, who performs aerial contortion in silk fabric, wowed the audience with her grace and flexibility. And the Spanish web act, which features acrobats climbing up ropes, before free-falling, supported only by the rope carefully twisted around them, elicited quite a few gasps.

While all the routines in Quidam are extremely impressive, the most remarkable one (and the most nerve-wracking one to watch) is the statue routine, performed by Yves Décoste and Valentyna Sidenko. The two balance on one another, slowly moving from one position to the next, completely defying gravity and logic. I was almost afraid to applaud during the sequence, because it seemed like breaking their concentration, even for a split second, could result in disaster. But they never broke and never lost their focus.

In lighter sequences, characters bring audience members into the action, both before and during the show. One of them is a clown (but a funny, modern one who doesn’t wear creepy clown makeup), who flirted with a woman in the audience, and who brought several people sitting in the front section up on stage to act out a scene. I love the audience participation aspect of Cirque shows, but I was happy to not be sitting near the front row — I prefer to observe.

In short, I loved the show, and found it to be even more incredible after seeing how hard both the performers and technicians work to perform it night after night. While the acts may look effortless, they require years and years of dedication to perfect. It’s unfortunate that Quidam was scheduled during U of I’s spring break, when not as many people are in town, but I highly recommend heading to Assembly Hall and seeing some of the best performers in the world show off what they’ve got.

Quidam continues its run Friday at 7:30 p.m., Saturday at 3:30 and 7:30 p.m., and Sunday at 1:00 p.m. Tickets are available at the Assembly Hall box office, through Ticketmaster, or by calling 333-5000.


All photos (except where noted) courtesy of Cirque du Soleil, used with permission.

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