High-flying act bound for Northern Virginia

By Jordan Wright

Cirque du Soleil is bringing the critically acclaimed “Quidam” to the area later this month. The captivating extravaganza, which has toured five continents and been seen by millions in its 17-year history, will be at the Patriot Center at George Mason University from July 17 to 21.

Last week at Georgetown’s newest restaurant and event venue, Malmaison, I had a chance to chat with show publicist Jessica LeBoeuf and Cirque du Soleil’s newest member William Wei-Liang Lin, who’s a 24-year-old diabolo performer from Taiwan.

LeBoeuf described the complex logistics of moving the production from city to city via 15 trucks — weighed down with the set, costumes and equipment — to stage a show with 52 world-class performers in an arena.

“The show has been redesigned for an arena from the usual big top,” she said. “But it’s the same show, just under a different roof. It’s theater-style seating, which gives us 500 to 1,000 more seats, still with the sound of a live concert. We take about a third of the stage area — think of a hockey rink — for the backstage, where there’s a gym, all the props, costumes and a place for the performers to warm up, plus the band pit and the garage. The stage comes out nearly to the front rows.

“There are a lot of aerial acts in the show, though we don’t use a safety net or safety line. We use the ‘téléférique,’ the French word for cable car. It’s an arch that comes halfway across the arena and stops above the audience, and then there’s a cable car system on each of the five rails where we fly the performers in and out on their apparatus. It’s all sheer human power.”

Speaking of people, the cast of “Quidam” includes singers, acrobats, musicians and characters from 20 different countries.

For Lin, the journey to Cirque du Soleil stardom has been as circuitous as it has been auspicious. As a schoolboy, he planned on studying tae kwon do, but when the class was filled, he wound up studying diabolo, a technique derived from the Chinese yo-yo that incorporates string and one or more axles that are spun and tossed.

Eventually Lin developed tremendous expertise, winning first prize at the Festival Mondial du Cirque de Demain in France, an international competition akin to the Oscars for circus arts. He was discovered by Cirque du Soleil’s scouts soon after in England.

Although he curtailed his university studies, he still needed to complete mandatory military service. And even then, he had to wait a year until a spot opened up at the company — which was in January.

“Cirque du Soleil is my dream,” Lin said while beaming. “My work is my diabolo. I love learning new tricks; many of my ideas come from videos and movies. For me, the possibilities are limitless.”

Lin has become wildly popular back in Taiwan, where he’s flooded with requests for TV interviews.

His performance is part of a story of a young girl bored by the world and her apathetic parents. Young Zoé seeks to fill the void of her existence with the imaginary world of Quidam, which is flush with characters encouraging her to free her soul.

The show is notable for its poetic transitions and beautiful acrobatics, which create an exhilarating sensory experience.

“The performers need to keep their bodies in good shape for eight shows a week while performing at the same level,” LeBoeuf said. “They do Pilates, stretching, yoga, dance classes, conditioning and cross-training. To keep them interested and involved, local dance teachers are often invited in to do demonstrations.

“In Detroit, we had a famous dancer come in that did hip-hop. It was very cool for the foreign performers to learn hip-hop. The contortionists said, ‘I don’t understand how you move.’ It was pretty funny coming from them.”

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