While much of America tuned into the Republican debate last night, I was watching curiosities of a different kind at KURIOS – Cabinet des Curiosités created by the enigmatic Montreal-based Cirque du Soleil. This show may not tour as long as the run for presidency (it ends in Los Angeles on February 7, 2016 before visiting Atlanta, Boston, NY, and DC), but it is a wonderful way to get lost in theatrical alchemy: acrobatics, steam punk fashion, otherwordly creatures, and soaring vocals by the brilliant Greek singer, Erini Tornesaki.
As soon as you enter the Cirque’s big top tent, or the Grand Chapiteau, you give yourself over to Kurios‘ fantastical world of the late 19th century, an era of steam power and engineering that influenced a whole subgenre of science fiction (20,000 Leagues Under The Sea by Jules Verne, HG Wells’ Time Machine) and steam punk culture.
Our Kurios scientist is the inventor of a machine that transcends time and space. When the clock freezes at 11.11 — wishing hour — we’re introduced to the main characters in his cabinet of curiosities. There’s an accordion-shaped man; a telegraph named Klara in a hoop skirt that transmits messages; and Mr Microcosmos, the embodiment of the technological process, whose subconscious takes the form of a tiny lady named Mini Lili that lives in his boiler-as-potbelly.
I love Cirque for its contortionists, acrobats, and balancing acts, and in this show, they’re as amazing as ever. A quartet of bendy ladies dressed as sea creatures effortlessly twist into unreal poses atop a giant mechanical hand. Twin aerialists display muscular strength while arm balancing on a set of rings. Rebounding off of an Acro Net, artists jump, flip, and glide through the air like swimmers in the sea. And just when you thought you’d seen it all, a chair balance taking place at a dinner party is interrupted by a second party happening above, upside down, on the ceiling. Suddenly, two sets of chairs are being stacked towards each other from opposite directions. Teetering on the brink, they finally touch.
Perhaps the most unexpected act of the show is the finger puppetry, where one hand, costumed in sneakers and a baseball cap, dances to hip hop, swims, and performs skateboard moves on a mini theatre stage — all filmed with live video that’s projected onto a giant screen — before taking off in a hot air balloon. The act ends as a love story (there’s a second set of fingers involved) on top of an audience member’s head. It shouldn’t make sense, but it does – a perfect example of success in bizarre experimentation.
That’s the thing about Cirque du Soleil. It asks us to embrace the unexpected and stretch beyond our imaginations. I’m always compelled to write more, dream bigger, and read fiction after a show (I’m about to watch Oz the Great and Powerful actually). In Kurios, an invisible theatre act forces you to fill the void of the unseen characters whose presence is only made apparent by the consequences of their movements. Sound strange? It is, but it can be as crazy as you imagine it.
Other acts include the gripping Rola Bola that involves an aviator balancing atop a stack of tubes on a swing; a yo-yo extraordinaire (he lends a retro air); an aerial cyclist; and acrobats performing mesmerising synchronised sequences.
The whirlwind two-hour performance comes to an end when the Kurios clock flips to 11.12. As we filed out, I dared the performance to inhabit my dreams.
Photos Martin Girard / shootstudio.ca