Heading down the street, a million thoughts race through one’s head. Pick up the kids, pay the bills and set the TiVo for that Perfect Strangers marathon. All the while, people race past, each consumed with a similar inner monologue. Attentions drawn inward, everyone focuses on the same thing and yet no one acknowledges or shares this connection with others. For Cirque du Soleil, the people and this possible connection cutting through the anonymity is a wondrous plane of existence full of emotions, empowerment and dreams. In one word, it’s Quidam.
Premiering in April 1996, Quidam (pronounced “key-dom”) is the story of a young girl, Zoé, who wants desperately to connect to the parents who ignore her. Zoé‘s imagination spirits her away to a land of larger-than-life characters that help the child find a voice in her own world. The show opens March 24 in San Jose at the HP Pavilion.
The 52 acrobats, singers and musicians expand on their characters with amazing displays of dance, contortion, balance and strength. These artists, such as Olga Pikhienko, bring their own talents and interests to Cirque du Soleil’s patented blend of theater and circus.
“You are really involved in the creation of your act,” Pikhienko, a hand balancer, told me in a recent interview. In an average day during development of a show, Pikhienko explained, “we take classes—yoga, acting, singing and dance—and then we spend three hours experimenting with our act. Then we work with the choreography and the musical director.”
Pikhienko began training as a rhythmic gymnast in Volgograd, Russia, when she was 5 years old. At 11, she began to perform with her father, Alexander Pikhienko, in Moscow’s Nikulin Circus, and the two went on to win numerous prestigious awards, such as a gold medal at the International Festival in Paris in 1992 and a silver medal in Beijing at the World Festival a year later.
A cast member of Quidam from its opening until 2001 and then again from 2006 on, Pikhienko also performed aerial contortion and cloud swing acts, but her favorite is hand balancing, and she draws her inspiration for her act from the creative minds around her: “I listen to the music, trying to create a mood. I think, ‘What is the mood here, what do I want the audience to feel?’”
From here, the choreography is born, so each dancer brings something unique to the stage even if it is the same character in the same show. Drawn from the Latin word meaning “something or someone,” Quidam is identical to the original Big Top show in Montreal. “Everything about the production is the same,” Cirque’s Reggie Lyons said, “but this show is different than other Cirque shows. It came right after Alegria, a light, elegant, baroque show filled with cool blues and silvers, and Quidam has an urban, almost gritty feel to it. I hesitate to say it, but it’s a good type of darkness.”
While the extravagance, mind-blowing movements and over-the-top theatrics are there, Quidam is also unlike any other Cirque du Soleil show in that it deals with real issues and takes place in our world not just in a fantasy realm. Even so, Quidam doesn’t follow a narrative, and the singers use a made-up language to avoid forcing specific ideas or themes on the audience, plus it makes it easier to take the show around the world.
Pikhienko recently left Quidam to help create and perform in a new show called Iris, which opens in Los Angeles in September. Anna Ostapenko now performs the hand-balancing stunts. “The foundation of the act doesn’t change,” Pikhienko explained. “[Anna] began by wanting to do everything the same, but the choreographer, Debra Brown, told her to ‘Leave that alone. Let the movements come from you.’”
As Ostapenko puts her own touch on a character from Zoé‘s imagination, Pikhienko plays out the wishes of the isolated, young girl from Quidam. In Iris, for the first time since she left Russia at the age of 15, a daughter will once again perform onstage with her father.
March 24-27, Thu, 7:30pm, Fri-Sat, 3:30 and 7:30pm, Sun, 1 and 5pm; $32-$115
HP Pavilion, San Jose