“We Are All Quidams – Celebrating 6,000 Performances”

Quidam: “It could be anyone, anybody,” the show’s programme observes. “Someone coming, going, living in our anonymous society. A member of the crowd, one of the silent majority. One who cries out, sings and dreams within us all.” This is the quidam that Cirque du Soleil is celebrating. In this world, the one who cries out is Zoë, a young girl who fumes because she believes she’s seen everything there is to see, experienced all there is to experience. For her, the world has lost all meaning. Her anger, sharp and unforgiving, shatters her little world and soon she finds herself in the universe of Quidam. Here, she is not alone, for she is joined by a joyful companion (Karl/Fritz/Target) and a more mysterious personage (John) who will attempt to seduce her with the marvelous, the unsettling, and the terrifying.

Directed by Franco Dragone, this production is more thoroughly scripted than Cirque’s previous shows, integrating performance and theatricality to a greater extent than ever before, drawing on the emotional relationships between the performers within the troupe. “This show highlights our frailties and our anguish in the face of the new millennium that lies before us. It also underlines differences, conveying positive feelings and resentment and confronting our dreams with our nightmares. Like preceding creations, it conveys emotion, but it is also more raw, more intense, more dramatic, and more personal too,” Franco Dragone said. The creative team pulled out all the stops to create this unique show that combines artistic performance and new technology. A show fit for the new millennium, they thought, in which people would find their proper place and adapt to a new world.


    “By the time we got to making Quidam, we were ready to take a risk to move away from the fantastical characters we’d been dealing with until then. We became interested in the faceless mass. You may know 100 people well, but the rest of the 6 billion people on the planet are quidams: they’re anonymous to you. And yet, my experience with Cirque made me realize you can recognize individuals in that mass. Because Cirque du Soleil is so international, Sydney and Russia have become more than places to me: they have become places where people I know are from. The world has become more human.” – Franco Dragone (Spectaculara)

For the most part, the creative team behind Quidam is the same that brought us Cirque du Soleil’s main productions. Dominique Lemieux created the costumes, Michel Crête designed the set, Debra Brown did the choreography and François Bergeron was the Sound Designer. The team would not be complete without Luc Lafortune and his lighting magic. There are also a few new names in the credits this year: Andrew Watson, Artistic Director, and Benoît Jutras, who composed the music.

The Music

    “The little girl who plays Zoé in Quidam has a real challenge, because she has to go from singing very tremulously and uncertainly to singing with a strong, full voice.” – Benoît Jutras (Spectaculara)

Created by Benoît Jutras, the music of Quidam is of remarkable dramatic intensity. Drawing on influences that range from classical music to the most eclectic and contemporary sounds, Jutras’s music accompanies, envelopes and accentuates the magic of the show. And for the very first time at Cirque du Soleil, the voices of a man and a child add texture and unique color to the music. The man in question is Mathieu Lavoie, and the child is none other than the composer’s daughter, Audrey Brisson-Jutras. Eleven years old and a singer and musician in her own right, Audrey accompanied the troupe during its long travels throughout North America. “When it came time to cast the role of Zoé, we ended up choosing my daughter,” Jutras reminisces. “It was tough, because I had been touring for years, and now, here she was going on tour for the next four years. At the premiere, I was there as both father and composer, so it was doubly nerve-wracking.”

The Costumes

At the start of the creative process, costume designer Dominique Lemieux explored the many worlds of everyday life. The fabrics and textures used in Quidam reflect the variegated hues of a megalopolis inhabited by street people. Working in close cooperation, the costume designer and the director have created characters and costumes that reflect the performer personalities. Guided by the need to present each performer as a unique individual, Dominique designed approximately 250 costumes (500 costume items, 30 hats, 20 real-hair wigs and 200-300 hand-painted shoes) that let the personality of each of the performers come through.
Each artist has between two to seven costumes apiece and each costume is specifically designed for that artist (with at least two spares of every costume). For example, the costumes of the Banquine troupe are the same design, but in different colors. At first, they are more colorful, representing characters in real life, but later the colors become muted, representing life after war or tragedy.

    “Quidam is an exploration of the everyday. Robert Doisneau was a wonderful source of inspiration for how the characters move and express their being. The surrealists Magritte and Delvaux were a guide in choosing the color scheme for the show, and also inspired how feeling and emotion are represented in it. In Quidam, a young girl experiences loneliness, anonymity, and alienation. She’s dressed in orange, the color of action. But she’s surrounded by grey everywhere, and red, the color of love, anger, and death.” – Dominique Lemieux (Spectaculara)

Eighty percent of the fabrics used in the show’s costumes are custom dyed. These fabrics are usually white and are hand-dyed and printed in custom colors shop. Basic costume and lining materials include leather, jute, linen, crepe, wool, velvet, Lycra, and 42 varieties of silk and 30 varieties of cotton from England, France, Italy and California. Around the world, fabrics have been woven and knitted to the specifications of Cirque’s Costume Workshop. They were then processed by dyers using a number of dyeing, printing, airbrush, and tie-dyeing techniques.


    “When I designed the make-up for Quidam, I was inspired by Dominique Lemieux’s sketches, but also by the artists’ faces. I worked directly on their faces, trying to help get the emotion we wanted out of them. For each character, we did a phenomenal number of tests, and ended up with boxes and boxes of photos.” – Nathalie Gagne (Spectaculara)

The Family (Mom, Dad & Zoë) — Zoë is an average little girl. She is bored, yet curious, and she longs for the fun and excitement she believes lies just beyond her reach. She is lost amidst a world where she finds no meaning. She is frustrated and disillusioned and is swept up into the universe of Quidam. Zoë’s Mother conveys an air of absence and alienation. Inside her lie fear, frustration and desire but she will soon rediscover the intense feeling of being alive through pain and courage, play and love. Lost behind his newspaper, ensconced in his den, Zoë’s Father is completely, though unwittingly, self-absorbed. His white shoes are the only indication of a hidden personality.

John — With his tragically spare hairdo and comically svelte frame, John is a different kind of ringmaster. Part game-show host and part substitute teacher with his own renegade lesson plan, John is our eerie yet charming guide through the world of Quidam.

Karl/Fritz/Target (Le Cible) — The Target is a living, human bulls-eye, fired at by everyone. Perhaps it is his gentle nature and kindness which leave him so vulnerable. Ironically, he remains light-hearted and happy. With an infinite smile and moving with grace, he chooses to live in empty space, present and absent at the same time, a companion to the lost girl for a little while.

Quidam — The Quidam may have stepped out of a surrealist painting or been conjured up out of Zoë’s imagination. He is anonymous-he is everyone, and, at the same time, he is no one.

Les Égarés — Les Égarés are lost individuals who gather together in the streets and abandoned buildings of Quidam. They sublimate their suffering, transforming it into something magical and inspiring.

Boum Boum — Boom-Boom, a bald guy with gloves for hands, is aggressive and physically fit. He brings forth the rumble of thunder and the flash of lightening with just the clash of his hands, showing us some of the more unpleasant sides of Quidam though protecting us at the same time. His ear piercing roars of disgust will grab your attention. And yet, he is lifeless, as though his body lives on only because his soul refuses to leave it.

The Aviator — The Aviator has skeletal wings, but doesn’t look quite ready to take off. Perhaps he doesn’t know he has wings. Perhaps he knows, but can’t fly. Perhaps he has tried and failed. Or perhaps he simply wants to escape this world and its problems.

Les Chiennes Blanches — Les Chiennes Blanches are the silent chorus, the nameless and the faceless. They are the dehumanized, mechanical crowd, simultaneously leading and following.

Les Clowns — Meet the Maclomas, an outrageous trio of screwball clowns, a living comic strip. This French trio (a team for more than 20 years) is baroque, eccentric and Fellini-esque in its approach. Their art is rooted in taunts and grotesque provocations, a taste for the absurd, and unpredictable (and irresistible) scenarios. Their performance is a riotous celebration of fearsome, subversive imagery and imagination. Merciless and terrifying, these clowning iconoclasts take cruelty to new extremes, while bringing to Quidam purity, poetry and tenderness.

The Set & Stage

Quidam’s set design is stunning. Evoking a monolithic structure like a train station or an airport concourse where people constantly come and go, the minimalist set was created within five months by a team of expert technicians from Cirque’s workshops. In every city, some 40 hours of work by about 50 technicians are required to erect the sets under the blue-and-yellow Big Top. One of the production’s most spectacular features is an overhead conveyor known as the téléphérique. Its five rails, made entirely out of aluminum, are constructed in seven 19-foot sections for a total length of 120 feet, almost the entire interior surface span of the Big Top. The idea for the conveyor came from Set Designer Michel Crête, who was looking for a new way of bringing artists on stage or into their aerial positions without cables obstructing the audience’s view. Each rail supports two trolleys which travel the length of the system: one brings the acrobatic equipment, performers and props from a backstage platform dubbed “the garage” and the other raises or lowers them to the appropriate height once they arrive at their designated points, which could be over the stage or above the heads of the audience.

    “For all of our shows up to this one, we had to work around the acrobats coming into the middle of the set and getting rigged up, and then climbing, trying to make it look organic and natural. We wanted to avoid that this time, so we designed a system of tracks on which they could make their entrance. That led to the idea of making the set itself a train station, which was just right. A train station’s anonymous, and cold, and it’s a kind of crossroads, too. It’s a place of decision.” – Michele Crête (Spectaculara)

The 387 square-foot stage (known as a trompe-l’œil floor), built from perforated aluminum panels that have been custom drilled, folded, structured and covered with a rubber-like flooring from Mondo, is illuminated from above and below and appears at times metallic while others incandescent. Changes in the lighting – contrasts in hues, angles and light beams – can instantly transform the mood of a scene from comedy to tragedy.

Though the phrase originates in the Baroque period, when it refers to perspectival illusionism, trompe-l’œil dates much further back. It was (and is) often employed in murals. Instances from Greek and Roman times are known, for instance in Pompeii. A typical trompe-l’œil mural might depict a window, door, or hallway, intended to suggest a larger room. Trompe-l’œil, in the form of “forced perspective,” has long been used in stage-theater set design, so as to create the illusion of a much deeper space than the actual stage (think: matte painting). In fact, the term is French for “deceive the eye” so it makes sense.

The 21 metric ton revolving stage reflects an ever-changing, unpredictable world. The 34-foot diameter turntable can turn in two directions, in different speeds and can support up to 50 people. There are more than 200,000 perforations, which allows light to surpass from below.


    “With Quidam, we started out wanting to do something very down-to-earth, and ended up with something surrealistic. Every night, the spectator comes in to watch people dream.” – Gilles Ste-Croix

Quidam offers audiences a variety of acts where high-caliber acrobatic performance goes hand-in-hand with the magnificent beauty of aerial, high-flying, balancing and manipulation acts. In store for spectators are the German wheel, Banquine, Spanish webs, Diabolo and Aerial Contortion in Silk. Also on the program: a hell-raising trio of crazy clowns who take cruelty to the limits while lending a touch of purity, poetry and tenderness to the show.


In typical Cirque du Soleil fashion, the show begins while the audience is still gathering. Our guide for the evening, “John,” greets the audience as they come through the door, playing with their hair, stealing their tickets, eating their popcorn, and generally causing a nuisance. He is followed by a troupe of characters dressed head-to-toe in white, hooded suits. Of course this group picks an unwilling volunteer from the audience, takes him backstage and brings him out dressed as one of them. John harasses him a little and sends him back to his seat.
As the house lights go dim, John takes the stage and plays snippets of songs on an old transistor radio – snippets of songs from previous Cirque productions, at which he sneers and turns up his nose. He reads us our instructions for the evening – no smoking, no pictures, and the like – and then leads us through this incredible story for the next two hours. The show opens on the young girl at home with her parents seated in typical family pose. The father reads the paper, the mother stares vacantly into space, Zoë tries to entertain herself and engage her parents.

A knock at the door brings a character straight from a Magritte painting – a headless man, Quidam, carrying an umbrella, who drops his hat in the center of this family scene. Interest piqued, Zoë picks up the discarded hat and places it to her ear, listing for the fantastical, the ethereal. Compelled then to place the hat upon her head, she does so. Thunder rolls, lightning flashes, and the family are carried away in one of the most amazing feats to occur under the Big Top. In blissful ignorance, the parents are carried off still in their chairs, seemingly unaware of what is taking place around them. At the same time, our young heroine’s guides to this fantastical world are introduced – John, who we have already met, and Fritz, an always-smiling, impish character. These two cohorts carry the young girl through adventure after adventure…


Although it is a very popular gymnastic exercise in Germany, Quidam makes the German wheel look like a game. The wheel, two meters in circumference, consists of two metal hoops joined at six points. The Wheel rolls into place in what was the living room, and Chris Lashua (the original artist) nonchalantly carries it through a series of rolls, twists, turns and spins that defy explanation. It flips from side to side, and returns to a straight vertical. It rolls across the stage at dizzying speeds. He guides this huge apparatus through varying tricks in a display of athleticism unlike anything seen before – some even with his hands held calmly behind his back. Fascinated, spectators observing this strange pair wonder whether wheel or acrobat is in control. Are they adversaries or allies? The mystery remains unsolved.


As the show progress, the Quidam’s world becomes more fantastical, more chaotic, and more beautiful. After the German Wheel rolls off, the troupe returns to the stage running, leaping, dancing across it with the young girl, Zoë, taking in all she can. Her parents appear, still in oblivion, her father with his head pushed through the newspaper lost in the confusion. Performers traverse the stage in a chorus of Zoë look-alikes, teasing her and John alike, while the remainder of the troupe comes on with varying sizes of drums – from small, tinny snare drums to the large, thundering taïko drums, now an essential part of any Cirque production. Through this group come the four young girls (Qing Liu, Xiaojing Liu, Yu Wang and Meng Xie) carrying their Diabolos, or “Chinese yo-yo”, who perform a quartet of juggling by tossing them across the revolving stage, forming pyramids and seemingly impossible uses of the ropes and spinning tops. In one of the most beautiful uses of the stage, at the end of the act, the four girls spin their tops up ropes hanging from the ceiling of the tent, from which drop in synchronization streamers of white and blue. The audience holds its breath as the four performers attempt to outdo each other in dexterity and ingenuity. This act won the Gold Medal at the 1995 Festival du cirque de demain in Paris.


As the Diabolo girls run off, again our troupe of performers comes through as we watch the Father traverse the tent suspended from the giant track, seemingly walking on air. As our eyes gaze toward the top of the tent, a cocoon of red silk comes from behind the orchestra at the front, and the amazingly beautiful Isabelle Vaudelle performs the Aerial Contortion in Silk. Not only is it an athletically astonishing act, but in context it was so hauntingly beautiful, performed to “Let Me Fall” from the soundtrack, but sung in Cirquish language. Moving with grace and delicacy, Isabelle Vaudelle becomes one with the columns of red fabric that supports and cradles her. To haunting music, contortionist and cloth intertwine, separate and embrace again. The translucent fabric occasionally hugs the body of the performer, creating a stunning effect that touches the artist in each of us. This act, which requires strength, flexibility and agility, won Isabelle the silver medal at the XXIIIe Festival du cirque de demain in Paris, where she represented Cirque du Soleil.


Do you remember when a sure sign of spring was the sound of children jumping rope? Drawing its inspiration from dance, acrobatics and the art of manipulation, Cirque du Soleil has transformed this familiar child’s game into a unique circus act. As a trio of Mother look-alikes, all dressed in red, come to carry Isablle off after her performance, they are followed by the remainder of the troupe who begin a languid Skipping Ropes section – at first a simple display of athletic prowess, led by two soloists – then morphing into an eclectic, energetic display of skill and timing as the entire troupe performs together. The video shows a nice shot from the ceiling of the tent in an almost Busby Burklee display of symmetry.


Three aerial hoops whirl above the stage. Each on her own hoop or all three on the same, Geneviève Bessette, Martyne Dubé and Émilie Grenon-Emiroglou pivot and twirl through the air. The hoops, suspended from the overhead track, whirl in a blur as the trio of performers manipulate and climb over them. With intense synchronization and precision the performers twirl the hoops and stop them on cue, using the air and the stage to propel them around. You will never forget this breathtaking aerial ballet.


More than mere jugglers, Jean Besnard, Patrick McGuire and Steven Ragatz manipulate a ball and wave-shaped metal forms with utmost dexterity. The ball will hypnotize you as it endlessly appears and disappears right before your eyes. Although this act looks easy, it requires superhuman precision and concentration. Michael Moschen, well known for his original manipulation acts, developed this act especially for Cirque du Soleil.


A suspended platform swings back and forth under the spotlights. The audience, immediately captivated, is irresistibly drawn to the gracious silhouette of a young hand-balancer. Perched on the platform, Olga Pikhienko moves through a series of precarious balancing positions of ever-increasing difficulty. This is one of the most typical “circus” acts in Quidam, but was also one of the most virtuoso performances.


After her leaving the stage, our guide John returns in his hilarious display of marksmanship with a set of darts. He wears a target on his head and tosses darts in the air to land on the target. Of course he misses, to our great amusement, and leaves the stage in a howl of agony as the overhead track brings a series of ropes onto the stage, each with a performer attached, high over our heads. And thus begins the incredible Spanish Web act, with acrobats climbing up and down the ropes, tying them around their bodies and flying through the air. In the live performance, the climax of this act was the character of Fritz, constantly wanting to be involved and meeting everything with a smile, climbing the ropes as the porter on the ground begins to spin the rope. Fritz flies off, attached to the main rope only by his ankle, flying and laughing hilariously over heads.

Additionally, the character of the Father was a principal soloist in the Spanish Webs act, portrayed by Daniel Touchette. He was the one who originally tied the rope in many loops around his body, ultimately letting it roll him precariously down to the ground. As a part of the story, this act began the transformation of the Father character into a more open, carefree person.


After the Spanish Webs have left the stage, our friend John returns and performs a fun juggling act with a ball and a hat stand to the incomparable singer Yma Sumac’s “Gopher.” It is a light-hearted moment of frivolity and fun in this crazy mixed-up world of Quidam.

A recurring element of Quidam is the nameless, faceless, ubiquitous characters dressed from head to toe in white medical-looking suits. These characters come in and out of the show, as they had participated with John at the very beginning, in various ways. After John leaves the stage they come rolling out in a group, form a clump in the middle and out of their midst come the next two performers to do the Statue or Vis Versa act. Reminiscent of similar acts in other Cirque shows, this duo balancing act is a Cirque trademark, particularly beautiful in Quidam as a counterpoint to some of the more frantic performances.

Never losing contact, two strong, flexible performers move almost imperceptibly, assuming positions impossible without an impeccable sense of balance. The audience is captivated by the sensuality of the performance by Marie-Laure Mesnage and Yves Décoste. Like martial artists enthusiasts, these two performers call on their sensitivity and powers of concentration in their quest for perfect harmony. Their act is testimony to the natural beauty of the human body.


Trapeze and Spanish web techniques combine in the explosive and dangerous cloud swing – another act unique to Quidam. Spectators thrill as Swiss performer Petra Sprecher calmly carries off spectacular acrobatics, dives and contortions at a hellish pace. The trapeze artist electrifies the audience, won over by her strength and virtuosity. It is a much more ‘violent’ performance than that of the Vis-Versa, and plays an important counterpoint to the slower elements of the show. At one extended point of the swing, she seemingly falls off the trapeze, attached only by a small guide-wire to her leg. But from the audience’s perspective it looks like she’s falling off completely. She regains her balance and continues flawlessly.


The final act of Quidam is the Banquine, an incredible balancing and acrobatic act involving the whole troupe. They toss each other madly about the stage forming towers of four people high, and in daring jumps from one group to the other, landing on only the joined hands of the porter. This performance was also used in Cirque’s IMAX Journey of Man film. It is, perhaps, the signature act of Quidam and features performances completely unlike anything else. Banquine is an Italian acrobatic tradition whose origins go back to the Middle Ages.’


Banquine of course leads to the resolution of the show, with Zoë uniting with her joyful parents. The Quidam appears again and takes back his hat, proving that the magical world is really the world we live in and that all these fantastic experiences are part of it as well.


Quidam has, over the years, evolved as Cirque du Soleil itself evolved. The show’s make-up became more elaborate, singers came and went, and, of course, a couple acrobatic numbers and clown teams pivoted in and out.

Let’s take the clowns for instance. While many of us equate Quidam with the Les Maclomas clown team (no doubt because they’re the trio featured on the show’s DVD recording), they weren’t the original clowns in the show. For the first North American Tour (1996-1998), we had Kotini Jr (Yellow) and Alosha (Red). The Red Clown was a crotchety, mean old clown who didn’t care whose feelings got hurt. He tormented Zoë in the beginning of the tale but by the end, befriended her. He walked with a limp and was downright gloomy. The Yellow Clown, in contrast, was likeable enough but not too bright. The two were crude and sometimes unwanted, but found a way into the narrative never-the-less.

Les Macloma were introduced during the European Tour and stuck around through the Second North American Tour (2002) and into the Japanese Tour (2003) before retiring. The clowns, Red, White and Yellow, were a sight to see and their antics, no less… anitc! From floating around the stage in hot-air balloons made from boxes to playing musical notes on balloons!
After their retirement the Les Macloma were replaced by Les Don Quijotes, a trio who built upon the Les Macloma legacy by performing their characters and numbers. Les Don Quijotes didn’t last nearly as long however, and were replaced by the Toto & Voki duo. Toto and Voki changed up Quidam’s clown routines by bringing back one of David Shiner’s best acts – the “Film Scene” (as seen in “Nouvelle Experience”) – and introducing what would become a crowd-favorite in “The Car”, which featured the participation of a female audience member.

Neither clown continued with the show’s arena conversion. The current clown brings a more contemporary vision of clowning. With subversive, crazy audience participation numbers, he tells his own story, bringing to Quidam the joyful, burlesque, and liberated language of clown. “This colorful, brash, and crazy world reminds us that the circus is forever a universal spectacle.” Or so says Cirque du Soleil.

Of course, the clowns wouldn’t be the only performers to come and go, and coming with the changes a new Quidam. John Gilkey (“John”) left Quidam after the end of the original North American Tour, to be replaced by Mark Ward – who has gone on to play the character of “John” for far longer than the original creator! (Consequently, John Gilkey returned to Quidam to take part in the show’s filming in 1999, returning to his titular character. Mark Ward, who had been performing “John”, was shuffled to the character of “Quidam” during the filming instead.)

Another trio to leave the show was the Manipulation artists.

The Manipulation act was originally created by Michael Moschen for Cirque du Soleil’s resident show Mystère at Treasure Island Las Vegas; however, during Quidam’s creation, the act was removed from Mystère and sent out on tour. Manipulation was only seen during the first North American Tour (1996-1998) and has not been seen in a Cirque production since. Their performance was not replaced; rather, a juggling act was retained en reserve in case another main act could not perform.

There were special occasions when acrobatic numbers not normally associated with Quidam, or were associated with other Cirque shows, came in on a temporary basis. Elena Lev’s Hoops Act was brought to Quidam due to a performance shuffle brought about by the conception of Varekai, for instance.

Olga Pikhienko, who originated and performed the Hand-balancing act, was leaving to perform in Varekai. This left a space in the Quidam roster to be filled. And thus Elena Lev, who had left Alegría during its Asia/Pacific run (2001-2002), joined Quidam during its second North American Tour (2002) bringing her famous Hoops act with her. Lev’s number in Quidam was virtually the same as performed in Alegría, with a couple of exceptions: first, Elena wore Olga’s costuming themed for Quidam, and second, performed her act to the more up-tempo hand-balancing song already in the show. At the end of the Second North American Tour (Dec 2002), Elena Lev left Quidam and the hand-balancing discipline was returned with a rotating roster of different performers through the years.

* * *

Yes, Quidam has undergone many changes in its eighteen-year history – performers have come and gone, acts have been replaced time and again, clowns have left and come back and left again – but perhaps the show’s biggest shakeup came on November 21, 2010 – the day it ceased to be a touring show under the big top. Like Saltimbanco, Alegría and Dralion before it, Quidam would close on that date and be converted into an Arena-only traveling production, hitting up secondary and tertiary markets across North America and Europe. In doing so, like its predecessor converts, Quidam would lose more than a little of its luster, some said it lost its soul. Which is an interesting comment to ponder; especially so when Quidam originally surprised spectators and attracted considerable criticism when it first launched. That’s right! Cirque du Soleil answered these charges by saying Quidam was not an “Alegria Plus” or “Super Saltimbanco”, but an animal all to its own. Perhaps the show is best summed up in the words of the title song from the Soundtrack – “There’s nothing left, there’s nothing right, there’s nothing wrong. I’m one, I’m two, I’m all yet none of you. The truth, the lies, the tear, the laughter, the hand and the empty touch. Here I am, alone, waiting for the curtain call.”