By Michael Roddy
LONDON (Reuters) - A man whose female partner balances the nape of her neck on the nape of his neck with her body sticking straight into the air sums up the amazing human feats Cirque du Soleil presents in a London show kicking off the troupe's 30th year.
Also on display during a month-long run of Cirque's evergreen 1996 production "Quidam" is a woman who drops herself from the heights of the Royal Albert Hall tangled up in a weave of scarlet silk that stops her just short of hitting the stage floor.
A bit later, rope artists spin around at dizzying speeds and a juggler shows up who doesn't seem to know that keeping a half dozen or more medium-sized red balls in the air at the same time must be impossible.
Millions of people have seen "Quidam" globally, but even some younger members of Tuesday's official opening night audience were back for a second or third viewing of the acts staged by 46 performers from 19 countries.
"It's incredible what they're doing up there, how they fight their fears," said Hugo Max, 11, of London, one of the many "Quidam" repeaters.
"I was totally shocked by all of them ... They're really good," said Maud Rutherford, 8, also of London.
Founded by street performers in the French Canadian province of Quebec in 1984, Cirque has become one of Canada's most famous exports. Touring shows play all over the world, and stage versions perform nightly in Las Vegas and other resorts.
"I think it is a wonderful card to give to everybody around the world. Cirque du Soleil for Quebec is a huge success," Luc Ouellette, the artistic director for "Quidam", told Reuters in an interview.
Here's what else he had to say about why he thinks the Cirque formula has been so successful, what his background as a dancer brings to the show and why, despite a few performers on stage flapping their arms in a jokey way to mimic seals, there are no animal acts:
Q: There are many circuses, but only one Cirque du Soleil. What makes it tick?
A: I think Cirque arrived with a different approach, without animals, but also we went through looking at makeup, costumes, lighting. The entire shows are crafted with attention to those details. I think Cirque is a detailed circus show and very different from one (show) to the other so each time it's a real surprise when people see a different show of Cirque. It's all about details. What makes Cirque so big is that we put all the attention into every aspect.
Q: Speaking of not having animals, one young spectator said he would have liked to have seen at least "an" animal. Why absolutely none (except the humans imitating seals)?
A: Well, I think it's easier to travel and a different lifestyle, not having animals. I don't come from a circus background so I don't know a lot about traditional circuses with animals and those caravans, but I think Cirque wanted to really concentrate on the show and not on having stars. The show is the star.
Q: Your background is in contemporary dance. How does that fit with circus life?
A: I danced for 15 years but I also roller-skated for 15 years at a very high professional level so there's knowledge that I can bring...Most of these artists are coming from sports so in a way I am finding a vocabulary for some of them. Also, I'm not young anymore (53) and I've lived through a few things and those kids often need a father figure because we're on tour and it's not easy. They are away from their families and sometimes they need a confidant, someone they can talk to. So I help them to grow as artists and also as human beings.
(Editing by Mark Heinrich)