Thursday, September 15, 2005

Cirque du Soleil's "Quidam" is a perfect blend of physics with art. Loosely based around children's toys and games, the performance involves the use of leverage, gravity, acceleration, and lots of pendula in different designs. But these basic tools of a physics lab when fused together with the aesthetics of music and dance and physiological movement bring a tear to the eye. To take the whole composition in is to experience such amazingly breathtaking beauty.

The set is cleverly designed around 4 overhead tracks that fly props and performers in and out quickly and efficiently. These tracks get a lot of mileage by constantly changing new sights for the audience to look upwards and gape at. As the show's inspiration is child's play, there is ample excuse to fly in various swinging contraptions suspending artistes in mid-air all the better to exploit the audience's acrophobia. As for toys, the diabolo spinners and the jumprope item were spellbinding in their precision timing and group coordination.

The theme seems so appropriate to the show. When else in our lives have we truly let ourselves go physically and imaginatively into our fun and games other than in our childhood? As I watched, I thought back to my own days of yore and how much enjoyment I got out of playing on the jungle gym, on the swings, slides, monkey bars and other devices that put kids' lives and limbs on the line. What I watched today were basically the stunts I could only imagine myself pulling as a kid, testing my physical limits in the playground. 'So dangerous,' as parents today might say, but oh so much fun as well.

How do these artistes allow themselves to be tossed into the air so easily, and to tempt fate by risking falls from great heights? What does it take for them to let go of their secure handholds and footholds and go soaring into the air like they do? First, they have to conquer their fear as they subject themselves to performing that which normal, ordinary human beings would naturally shy away from. This wouldn't be easy to do unless there is the most implicit trust in their equipment and in their fellow artistes who stand ready and are well-trained to catch a flying body, thus preventing injury from occurring.

The trust and faith performers draw upon to go flying isn't a blind faith, though. They spend years training together, understanding each other, coordinating with one another. They check and religiously maintain their equipment again and again through a boring but necessary routine. And they discipline themselves too through personal conditioning. They train themselves to form the shapes that allow them to be caught by their fellows, 'cos there's no point having people stand by to catch you when you, yourself, remain uncatchable.

Flying doesn't come naturally to us, human beings. It's a learning process and during training and rehearsals there are going to be mistakes. I'll bet the performers all have a litany of bumps, bruises and worse to their names as a result. But if they weren't ready to accept their hurts as par for the course, maybe they wouldn't have thought of wanting to fly in the first place.

How about that? Philosophy of the Circus 101.

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