Cirque Du Soleil is a long standing world-wide brand known for artistic entertainment with a variety of circus-esque shows featuring feats of human acrobatics, captivating performances, and curious imagery. No Cirque show is the same, nor have they never not been amazing. It can be said, however, that the sheer volume of shows over the years (a record 35 shows since 1984) has over exposed the brand to the point that reception has, to some, diminished. Acts/performances that were once new and astonishing have become relatively common place (rehashes of feats that have been seen before), garnering assertive head nods that read “not bad” and mild roars from the crowd. This is something more easy said to those that have seen or been to several shows before. Whatever public perception may be, Cirque is standing more triumphant than its ever been thanks to their latest show. KURIOS: Cabinet of Curiosities on tour now, is decidedly unique and captivating, and in every way what one would hope a Cirque show could be. Invoking the very sense of wonderment that makes Cirque Du Soleil so appealing in the first place.
Cirque Du Soleil shows have come and gone, with a ample sum still in production. Examples being the traveling arena shows and the plethora of resident shows, like the ones at pretty much every major hotel in Vegas. Every iteration is distinct, playing out its own, often bizarre, story and featuring a variety of crowd pleasing acts. That’s one of the many things that makes Cirque, in general, so special. Audiences can be enthralled by a dazzling whirlwind of displays and soul happy music from The Beatles “Love“ show in Vegas. Or, they can be completely invested in the very character driven story in “Turok: The First Flight” an arena show based on the James Cameron’s Avatar franchise. What makes KURIOS stand above the rest, is that it takes the very best of what Cirque Do Soleil has to offer – adventurous story, memorable characters, acts that are both funny and daring, music to cling to, vivid aesthetic – and balances it all into a truly joyous show from start to finish. It’s a direct response to the shows vision, showmanship, and the theme from which the show is based. That theme being, the wonderful world of Steampunk – or as Cirque would describe it “retro-future”.
What is Steampunk? It’s a modern trend that emerged about 10 or so years ago, and one that is still going strong today (though if you ask some people its died and come back several times) – particularly towards the nerd/geek community, the hipster crowd, and those that have an affinity for antiquated technology and fashions. Arts, crafts, clothing, and lifestyle blends the turn-of-the-century Victorian time period and the Steam powered era. In short, it’s a genre of science fiction that typically features steam-powered machinery rather than advanced technology – If Jules Verne or H.G. Wells were writing their science fiction today, it would be considered “steampunk“.
Steampunk is often referred to as the “greatest era that never was.” Visually steampunk draws on an industrial aesthetic with brass, cogs, clockwork and, of course, steam being key to the ‘look’ as well as formal 19th century Western fashion. The amazing confluence of ideas that makes Steampunk so fascinating, that fusion of history, is a the perfect tapestry in which to weave a vaudevillian based circus event around. It matches the fun gadgetry of sci-fi with the ornate formality of the 19th century for the best of both worlds. It’s (excuse the pun) curious as to why the creatives behind Cirque are only just now doing a Steampunk inspired show?
The aesthetically defining characteristics of the Steampunk world is, in short, captured to perfection. The art department behind KURIOS created costumes, staging, makes-ups, backdrops and accent pieces each with a whimsical patina and fun exaggerations. Examples being, a character that looks like a human accordion (Aptly named “Accordion Man”) a wee little person in Victorian dress who lives inside the overcoat of Mr Microcsomos – a conductor man with the body of lead train car. Yes, it’s weird.
The set pieces themselves draw just as much from the Gothic and Renaussance time periods – with pieces like a pre-century glider that looks like something the Wright Brothers would have crashed landed in, or the large 15 foot long gilded mechanical hand. Every pieces possesses a sense of imagination and charm.
Every Cirque Du Soleil is built around a story, even when one might not be abundantly clear. Nothing is random or up for interpretation (well maybe a little). Sometimes the story/message is so deep, and not one that a snooty art major neither has the time or crayons to explain (I for one, still have no idea what Disney World’s “La Nouba” show is about so don’t feel bad). KURIOS is a little easier to follow:
In an alternate yet familiar past, in a place where wonders abound for those who trust their imagination, a Seeker discovers that in order to glimpse the marvels that lie just below the surface, we must first learn to close our eyes.
In his larger-than-life curio cabinet, the Seeker is convinced that there exists a hidden, invisible world – a place where the craziest ideas and the grandest dreams await. A collection of otherworldly characters suddenly steps into his makeshift mechanical world. When the outlandish, benevolent characters turn his world upside down with a touch of poetry and humor in an attempt to ignite the Seeker’s imagination, his curios jump to life one by one before his very eyes.
What if by engaging our imagination and opening our minds we could unlock the door to a world of wonders?
At times, KURIOS will leave you feeling like you’ve awoken in one of the most messed up Nyquil induced Alice in Wonderland-like fever dreams. But the show is intelligently written, and the tapestry created is admirable. In a sense, the very definition of what “imagination” means is what is played out in front of the audience. That sings so closely and is profound to anyone who has ever dared to dream and or see things differently or believes in child like innocence.
The Acts! KURIOS: Cabinet of Curiosities features a total 13 acts within the 2 hour show. Each act features one or more performers known as the Curiosistanians – inhabitants of an imaginary country called Curiosistan and they turn up in the Seeker’s world in order to ignite his imagination.
Some other Cirque shows stack one seemingly death defying, physics bending, show stopping act one after another. When that happens its not to say that what’s happening on stage is any less amazing but without build up or something to cleanse the pallet, the dramatics are not as impactful . Other times, the ride/flow from one act to another doesn’t ebb & flow quite right, with some acts being downright boring – the industry calls those the “popcorn acts” where audience members can leave to get a popcorn and not feel they missed anything. Make no mistake, there is no popcorn act here. KURIOS has just the right balance of both big spectacles and little ones that feel big.
There are grand acts like:
“RUSSIAN CRADLE DUO” – A strongman and a porcelain face doll awakened by an electrical discharge emerge from their musical box and jump to life. The two artists climb on top of an apparatus 13 feet above ground. In a number based on mutual trust, the catcher turns into a human trapeze and flings his partner in the air where she performs more and more intricate somersaults.
“ACRO NET” – A large net, taking up the whole stage, is tuned so that the artists standing on the surface can use their legs to modulate the amplitude of the bouncing motion, at times creating a slingshot effect that propels their teammates almost to the top of the big top.
Then there’s the in-between acts like:
“THEATER OF HANDS” – In this moment imbued with simplicity and poetry, an artist uses only his fingers to tell a story that is
filmed and projected in real time on a hot-air balloon that serves as a screen.
“INVISIBLE CIRCUS” – An oddball ringmaster directs a miniature circus with invisible artists. It’s the greatest show you’ve never seen!
Each act stands a presentation of true showmanship, where delivery and performance earns uninterrupted attention. That’s in respect due to the talent of the performers, the artistic retro-future theme, and direction, as wells the shows sountrack.
The latter is a character all in itself, selling the mood and vibe of each artist and their performance. The music is not pre-recorded or some generic interpretations of thr B sides to a Bjork album. From opening to close, from one act to another, there are musical themes and songs performed live on-stage by entrancing singer and handful of musicians playing instruments from the drums, violin, and even the accordion. If Steampunk had a sound, this is it!
The shows festive opener starts with eccentrics, acrobats, a juggler, percussionists and dancers in their Sunday best, and sets the tone of freedom and charm. From there, it’s a non stop ride full of visual curiosities in characters and performances that will bemuse, shock, incite laughter, ’cause ones jaw to remain agape, and leave even the most cynical completely wide-eyed. A show like KURIOS: Cabinet of Curiosities is why is why Cirque Du Soleil exists. It’s not just something to watch, it’s an experience. And you will feel better for having experienced it. This show will bring out your inner child.
KURIOS: Cabinet of Curiosities is finishing out its last few days in Boston, MA at the Suffolk Downs Racetrack with nightly shows through July 10th. BUY TICKETS HERE. Once it leaves Boston, it will then make its ways to cities Washington, New York, Miami, Dallas, and Houston. See Tour plan HERE.