When a creative enterprise balloons into an international brand it can struggle to stay grounded and true to the qualities that made its name. Factor in the off-the-scale spectacle favoured by Cirque du Soleil and that challenge increases. Gasps of wonder are all very well, but how can a globe-trotting production line of gymnasts, dancers and daredevils excite deeper emotions from their audience?
A compelling narrative would help, but the 18-year-old Quidam offers only the flimsiest of framing devices in which a bored young girl (Alessandra Gonzalez) dreams up a fantasy world in order to escape the drabness of her life. Cue the acrobats.
The mind may be neutralised, then, but my, how the eyes are dazzled by these phenomenal artists as act after act explores the outer limits of what circus performers can achieve. From Wei Liang Lin's diabolo tricks to the extreme juggling of Patrick McGuire, Quidam constantly outstrips most people's idea of what is humanly possible. Some acts outstay their welcome (there's only so much fun to be had from three aerial hoops) but on opening night the well-oiled Canadian entertainment machine purred its way through two-and-a-bit hours with a mishap count of zero.
With so many athletic bodies cascading through the Royal Albert Hall's unchartered airspace, Quidam's trump card is the opportunity it affords its audience to revel in the joy of human beauty. Graceful and undeniably erotic, the slo-mo gymnastics of Yves Decoste and Valentyna Sidenko are every bit as awe-inspiring as Julie Cameron's vertigo-inducing silk work or the high-energy Banquine tumblers with their flawless diversity of talent.
There are some inconsequential side-show dancers whose apparent function extends no further than to populate the aching void of a huge arena stage. They're an unwelcome distraction. As for the clowns, always an acquired taste, these are not Quidam's strongest suit either. When it comes to audience participation Cirque du Soleil could learn a thing or two from Dame Edna; as it is, Toto Castineiras's ‘Clown Cinema' sequence never really got going – probably because he failed to recruit sufficiently entertaining gumps to work with. Things may brighten up on nights when he strikes it luckier among the front-row punters.
Half a dozen crack musicians under Jim Bevan accompany the show's every minute with a score that runs the gamut from new age to Hollywood. Music, of course, is an international language and thus an important feature of a show that tours the world. Like actions, of which Quidam has countless, it speaks so much louder than words.