While working on my master’s degree in music, I took advantage of the many resources at my fingertips. When I needed a break from usual studying, I would see what I could find about Cirque du Soleil. One of my favorite databases that I had access to was ProQuest. It is mainly a electronic archive of dissertations and theses from universities all around the world. There are actually a few written about Cirque du Soleil. The one that caught most of my attention was a Ph.D thesis written by Jamie Skidmore at the University of Toronto entitled, A Critical Analysis of Cirque du Soleil: 1987-2001. In his thesis he looks at all of the Cirque du Soleil shows from Cirque Reinventé to Dralion to bring attention to symbols used in the New Circus genre.
Some of these themes you may already be familiar with. I feel, however, that for the sake of the site I will reiterate the more commonly known ones so that they are documented.
Starting with the subject of their Mise-en-scène Quidam he first discusses the Telepherique and how it allowed seamless transitions between acts. He felt that the show contained the most cohesive Mise-en-scène of any cirque show because a central theme, the freeing of emotions, held a strong line that the audience was able to follow throughout the show.
He of course brings up the subject of René Magritte’s paintings that were a big influence on the show. Particularly the painting that portrayed a man in a suit with a bowler hat with his head obscured. Naturally, this is apparent with the character of Quidam being a headless man carrying an umbrella and a bowler hat. He believes that the bowler hat symbolizes a mind full of ideas. So when Zoe places it on her head she is transported to a place full of new ideas and thoughts. He also claims that the Teleferique itself is in the shape of a bowler hat. Although it is shaped in a curve, I do not see that connection. As for the umbrella, he brings attention to the fact that at the time, an umbrella was used in every show. In addition to following that tradition, he suggests that Quidam carried the umbrella to protect himself from becoming “clean” and another face in the crowd like the Chiennes Blanche (the silent chorus-the anonymous crowd in white sanitary jumpsuits). A very interesting theory.
There are also the possible allusions to the Wizard of Oz. In the transition to German Wheel after the Petit Salon scene, John puts on the father’s shoes. This suggests that Zoe represents Dorothy. What further reinforces this idea is that the Diabolos are dressed as “tin men.” Since the tin man was in search of a heart, it is fitting they would choose such costumes to follow the thematic search for emotion and passion.
To be continued…
[Source: Skidmore, Jamie. A Critical Analysis of Cirque du Soleil: 1987-2001. Univesity of Toronto, 2002.]