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Will the Cirque be Unbroken?

Cirque du Soleil
Enfants Terrifics: Cirque du Soleil's Diabolos at work

Canadians existential circus skips into town

By Todd S. Inoue

While the highs are still tremendously high under the big top at Cirque du Soleil, the stunning watermark left by the Cirque's last visit to San Jose, Alegría, resulted in some impossible-to-fulfill expectations for Quidam, the Montreal troupe's latest incarnation. To wit, ringmaster John Gilkey unsuccessfully stifles a yawn in the opening sequence when he accidentally tunes his radio to a station playing Alegría's theme song. Nice touch.

The most amazing feats were those whose margin of error and perceived level of concentration were the highest. Best of all was the woman suspended from the overhead conveyor in two stripes of red silk ("Aerial Contortion in Silk"). In a vision stolen from Michelangelo's eye, Isabelle Vaudelle dangled, contorted and buried herself in the fabric and transformed herself into a surreal sculpture--then mutated back.

The "Diabolos," the juggling Chinese enfant terrifics dressed as tinwoodsmen, were an early, eye-catching hit. The "Statue Vis Versa," a mind-blowing body balancing act between Yves Déscoste and Marie-Laure Mesnage, left jaws dropping throughout the audience.

With a post-apocalyptic feel, the action-packed finale ("Banquine") combined gymnastics and ballet like a scene from a 2010 version of Les Miserables starring a clinically depressed Bart Conner.

Opening-night jitters haunted the elaborate rope-skipping routine, which suffered from a few lapses in timing. The creative wing might investigate New York City rather than the Ukraine when looking for expert rope-jumpers. Any group of schoolgirls from Brooklyn or the Bronx could school them in double-Dutch.

The duo balancing red balls on wave-shaped metal dishes ("Manipulation") also missed the mark. The act seemed as pedestrian as street entertainers on Venice Beach. It was, in a word, whimsical--a term that doesn't belong in the Cirque dictionary.

The dark, surreal nature of the program might not appeal to those weaned on balloon animals, but Quidam's entertainment value is enough to earn the title of the Greatest Show, Intellectual or Otherwise, on Earth. For someone who isn't down with deep meaning, I came to get entertained and left energized.

The San Jose Water Company, 374 S. Santa Clara St., San Jose; ends Sept. 14; $8.25-$45.50; 1-800/678-5440.

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