When Cirque du Soleil emerged from Montreal in the 1980s it gave the moribund world of circus an injection of style, pizzazz, more than a little sex appeal and a French accent. With “Quidam,” the production that opened this week in San Francisco, much has been lost in translation, from setting to soul.
In past Bay Area appearances, the troupe’s erection of a white tent somewhere in SoMa promised an event full of mystery and excitement. That sense of excitement starts to evaporate as you approach the Cow Palace, a looming, leaden edifice far better suited to the elephant acts of Barnum and Bailey than the intimate promise of a Cirque performance.
Created in 1996, “Quidam” tells the looking glass tale of Zoé, a bored young girl who is ignored by her parents and enters a magical world.
Unfortunately that all happens in the show’s opening number and, even granting that this is circus and not a narrative play, nothing that follows connects to the opening or creates the cohesive theme that gave other Cirque editions like “Saltimbanco” or “Nouvelle Experience” their charm.
With no emotional or intellectual core to engage you, what remains is an opportunity to contemplate the details. Doing so reveals that the whole of “Quidam” is far less than the sum of its parts, many of which suffer from a lack of inspiration.
The team at Cirque has been successfully building indoor productions in Las Vegas for several years, and the physical structure created for this reimagined “Quidam” is quite fascinating. A giant metal wave actually becomes one of the more interesting characters in the show as it moves actors, props and set pieces through the air and over part of the audience on five independent conveyor tracks.
The acts the set conveys? Well, after a quarter-century and 22 shows, the range of performance genres that fit the Cirque milieu — acrobats, contortionists, aerialists, jugglers, dancers, singers, clowns and other specialties — has been exhausted. To keep things fresh, these repeating pictures need to be presented in new and interesting frames.
“Quidam” trips badly here. Most of the dozen named vignettes feel overly familiar, flat and too long. The few bright moments come either very early, as with Cory Sylvester’s quite exciting “German Wheel,” or too late, in the exquisitely beautiful “Statue” of Anna Vicente and Jérôme Le Baut, or the genuinely fizzy excitement of the 15 giddily bouncing acrobats in “Banquine.”
The rest is sparkly filler that will amuse only children or the uninitiated.
Presented by Cirque du Soleil
Where: Cow Palace, 2600 Geneva Ave., Daly City
When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Thursday; 3:30 and 7:30 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays; 1 and 5 p.m. Sundays; closes April 17
Tickets: $43 to $117
Contact: (866) 448-7849, www.cirquedusoleil.com/quidam