It's a story to which most people can relate: a pre-teenager, feeling bored and neglected by her parents, lets herself drift to a fantasy world in her head.
Cirque du Soleil is known for its meaningful theatrics as well as amazing acrobatics, and local audiences will get no less when it brings "Quidam" to Mile One Centre for eight shows early next month.
"One of my interpretations of the story is the transition between a young girl to a teenager, and all the turmoil and obstacles and surprises along the way. This is what she's going through while not even leaving the living room of her parents," said Fabrice Lemire, artistic director of the production. "You have some scenes that are more emotional and some that are just pure athletic extravaganza."
"Quidam," which premiered as a big top performance in Montreal in 1996, has toured five continents since it converted to an arena-type format. The show has been touring North America only since last December, and features 52 world-class acrobats, dancers, musicians, singers and actors.
Along with Zoé, the show's main character, there's Quidam, a headless figure, carrying a bowler hat and an umbrella, who takes her on an journey through her fantasy world with dazzling characters who attempt to get her to free her soul. While the main storyline is timeless and easy for anyone to decipher, those who want to find a deeper meaning in the plot will be able to do so, Lemire said.
"If you want to just look at the entertainment and the acrobats doing tricks and artistic things, you'll get that, and if you want to get a deeper message, you'll get that, too," he explained. "When I'm sitting and watching the shows, night after night in the audience, I see that; somebody could be very touched by something and somebody else on the other side could just go, 'Wow."
Set mostly in shades of gray - "Almost as if you're looking at a black and white movie," Lemire said - with deep reds, the stage design for "Quidam" is minimal and industrial-looking, almost like a train station or subway tunnel. The "télépherique," consisting of five aluminum arches, stands high above the stage, each with trollies that bring performers in and out. The stage itself is circular, with the live band on a platform in the back, and also includes a turning table as well as ramps for performers.
The acrobatic performances in "Quidam" have won numerous circus awards. There are aerial contortion acts on silks, flying hoops, juggling, diabolo acts - in which a spool is thrown and balanced on a string between two sticks - and a two-person hand-balancing act. There are also some group performances: a skipping act and the banquine, an old Italian acrobatic act combining gymnastics and dance, as well as the Spanish web, where acrobats fly over the stage from the télépherique and perform sudden drops, tied on by ropes.
The artists, particularly those doing solos, can have input into their own performances if they wish.
"They'll bring me material and we look at it together, and if I feel it follows the path of the show, I would be more than happy to integrate it into the production," Lemire said. "I'm always open to suggestions."
Since "Quidam" has been travelling, the performers and crew have been working on a 10 weeks on, two weeks off schedule. They travel on Sunday nights or Monday mornings; the crew sets up on Tuesday while the performers are off, and then there are shows from Wednesday until the following Sunday. The highly-skilled performers must be at the top of their game at all times, Lemire said, and spend a lot of time preparing for their shows. As artistic director, he works closely with the performers and knows each one of them personally.
"It's my role to use my common sense. When I come in at work in the morning and they come in, I'm looking. If I see something different in the body language of the performer, I'll (deal with) it right away; I'm not going to wait and I'm not guessing," he explained. "If I see that an artists doesn't feel right one day, I will discuss it with the person and we find solutions. If I need to pull a performer out of the act because of whatever feeling that he or she has, I'll do it. Communication is the key.
The performers must prepare themselves mentally, which is important and takes a significant amount of time, Lemire said, as well as physically. Unless Lemire calls them in to work on a specific scene, they're left to themselves to do their own conditioning.
"We have what we call the blue carpet, which is the conditioning area behind the stage," Lemire said. "We recreate that space every single venue that we go to."
The performers, though incredibly lithe, eat a lot, he said, and have their own catering company travelling with them.
"Because some of them spend an hour and a half doing make-up and we do two shows a day, they can't go out or anything, so we have a company provide food in the venue. The menu changes daily and there's always an open salad bar. A lot of them have fast metabolism and they'll burn it fast, because they practice so much, but they do eat."
Cirque du Soleil will be presenting "Quidam" July 6, 7, 8 and 9 at 7:30pm; July 8 and 9 at 3:30pm, and July 10 at 1pm and 5pm. Ticket prices range from $35-$75 for adults, $28-$61 for children 12 and under, and $31.50-$63 for seniors, students and those in the military. A limited number of premium tickets are also available for all performances. Tickets are available at the Mile One Centre box office, by calling 576-7657 or 1-855-790-1245, or online at www.admission.com.