Performing Arts: Backstage at Quidam

by Editorial

Washington Life goes backstage Cirque du Soleil’s newest show, Quidam, at the Verizon Center.
By Ayla Richards

The cast of Cirque du Soleil's Quidam rehearses Tuesday onstage at the Verizon Center. Photo by John Arundel.

Walking out onto the floor of the Verizon Center on Tuesday afternoon to witness the transformation taking place in DC’s typical home of hockey and basketball was nothing short of awe-inspiring. Clowns, acrobats and jugglers took the stage to practice their intricate, death-defying routines in preparation for the opening night of Cirque du Soleil‘s Quidam, making no mistake that Cirque is back in town.

The day before, 15 trailers filled with 2,500 pieces of wardrobe, a massive lighting and sound system, sewing machines, four exercise bikes, and even a washer and dryer made the trek down from Philadelphia where Cirque had hosted its previous leg of shows.

Quidam, which made its worldwide premiere in 1996, and is making its second appearance in Washington Nov. 16-20, won over the crowds who attended Opening Night on Tuesday. Without exaggeration, the show is an incredible feat of physical talent, theatrical artistry and arduously honed acrobatic skill.

The storyline follows young Zoé’s escape from her mundane, ordinary life into the fantastical world of Quidam. As an audience member, your experience undoubtedly parallels Zoe’s as you enter the Artistic Director Fabrice Lemir’s whimsical world that has taken hold inside Chinatown’s Verizon Center.

Behind the scenes, life as a member of Quidam is vastly different than a little girl’s daytime fantasy. Performers train religiously, rehearsing several hours a day during the two days preceding opening night, then perform an exhausting 8 times in each city.

For these artists, however, Cirque is simply a way of life. As a self-described “gymnast who became an acrobat,” Lisa Skinner has spent the last 5 years  on tour with Cirque in a variety of different shows. At 30, she looks back on her experience as a young Olympian in the 1996, 2000, and 2004 games as having “provided her with a strong skill set for her new profession.”

Skinner reflects on her time spent with the cast and crew of Quidam with a smile as she giggles at one of the performers who just tripped on stage. “We travel from one corner of the world to another like one big family, for better or worse.” The group travels together for 10 weeks consecutively, followed by a 14-day break in between each stretch. By the end of each tour, she said, “you can tell everyone is ready to go home.”

After long tours across the United States, South America, Europe and Asia, Cirque flies their cast and crew to wherever home lies. Lisa typically returns to her hometown of Brisbane, Australia, where her parents and family still reside. “My parents have actually never made it to a show,” she said. “But we check in every day or so.”

The technical aspect behind a Cirque du Soleil production is almost as magical as the abilities of the acrobats and dancers themselves. Stage manager Gabriel Dubé-Depuis’ giant aluminum ceiling called a ‘téléphérique’ secures his performers as they twist on rings and swing on ropes through the air. The backstage area, full of 20 wigs and countless pieces of brightly colored makeup in drawers full of brushes and face paint, is where the final touches are put on.

Once the show begins, the transformation takes hold. The only clue left that you’re sitting in a sports arena is the lonely Captain Morgan banner hanging beneath the box seats. The grand opening Tuesday night did not disappoint, and the show was seemingly effortless as tiny acrobats leaped and tumbled across the stage.

Quidam is a seamless display of the performer’s talent and training efforts, and the undeniable sense of family that is Cirque du Soleil.

Backstage, head of wardrobe, Justine Willis, shows off some intricately painted shoes which will be worn by a clown in that evening's performance of Quidam. Photo by John Arundel.

Acrobat Daniella Bin and and Stage Manager Gabriel Dube-Depuis rehearsing for Quidam onstage at the Verizon Center on Tuesday. Photo by John Arundel.

A gymnast who became an acrobat, Lisa Skinner has spent the last 5 years on tour with Cirque in a variety of different shows. Photo by John Arundel.

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