Knoxville may never be an Olympic city, or an NBA city, or a Justin Bieber city, but none of those shortcomings are cause for much anxiety on those nights when we get to be a Cirque du Soleil city. It may be the greatest show on this particular planet.
The Montreal-based troupe of singers, acrobats, dancers, musicians, and, we strongly suspect, wizards, opened Wednesday for a five-day stand at Thompson-Boling Arena, which seems like a whole different place when they're here. Anybody who's familiar with it knows it's a tough job to make that aluminum-sided joint seem enchanted, but Cirque du Soleil is up to the challenge, even if it takes a crew of 150, and 50 truckloads of stuff. Some Knoxvillians travel to Atlanta to see their big-tent performances, claiming they're better than arena shows, but watching this production, it's hard to picture how it could be.
Cirque's Alegria show was a big hit here last year. Quidam is pretty different. One of Cirque's darker, more unusual productions, Quidam, which has been touring the world off and on since its debut in 1996, features a fairy-tale sort of plot about a neglected child who, upon a visit from a mysterious headless fellow--he looks to be modeled on that painting by Magritte of the businessmen with umbrellas--steps into a bizarre parallel universe of the imagination, where nearly anything seems possible. What becomes of her parents, who never really leave the room, is intriguing.
Go with a cynic who's used to rolling his eyes at computer animation in movies. Cirque's special effects are, incredibly, real. Real acrobats, real athletes performing feats of astonishing strength, aerialists on pendant rings and lots of leaping. And real musicians--all the music, which has a French, almost Cajun sound to it, is supplied by a live band.
Quidam is about a child, but not necessarily aimed at children; some scary scenes are likely too intense for preschoolers. The show's so overwhelming, certain adults we know were unable to speak about it for a few hours afterward.