Friday 13 March 2020

Kurios: Cabinet of Curiosities - Circus Review

What: Kurios - Cabinet of Curiosities
When: 12 March - 10 May 2020
Where: Flemington Racecourse
Written and directed by: Michel Laprise
Composition by: Bob & Bill, and Raphael Beau
Set and props design by: Stephane Roy
Costumes by: Philippe Guillotel
Lighting by: Martin Labrecque
Makeup by: Eleni Uranis
Chih-Min Tuan - Photo: D-CORD <Keiju Takenaka> Costumes: Philippe Guillotel  © 2018 Cirque du Soleil
Cirque du Soleil are back in town at probably the most important time ever. If there was ever a time people needed some cheering up and a nudge to their own imagination, it would be now. Kurios: Cabinet of Curiosities is all about celebrating our own imagination and how to make magic happen in our own lives.

I will begin with the story, although I do use that term loosely. The press kit is full of backstory and metaphors which I don't think realise on stage but hey, this is circus. It doesn't need a strong narrative. It needs a strong imagination and a truckload of talent and ability. Kurios has all of that in spades.

Having said that, I will speak about the show's meta-arc. There is a mad scientist character called The Seeker (Anton Valen) who is engaging in experiments to try and release an invisible world of impossible things. He is aided by the two assistants he created, Kurios Winch and Kurios Plunger.

The Seeker's world is Steampunk delight thanks to the glorious talents of Roy (set and props designer) and the clever creations by costume designer Guillotel. Cirque du Soleil shows are always visually stunning and Kurios is a benchmark example of their production perfection.

The point at which you know the narrative is unimportant is when Microcosmos (Karl L'Ecuyer) arrives with his friends Klara (Ekaterina Pirogovskaya) and Nico (Nico Baixas). I think maybe an experiment goes wrong, and then a train arrives, and then a whole bunch of people emerge on stage to enact 'Chaos Syncro 1900'. It really was quite chaotic and unfortunately it didn't wow me.

I was sitting in front of one of the judges for Dancing With The Stars (Craig Revel Horwood) and I imagined him saying to the dancers that their set up was too long and he wanted to see more dance. This is how I felt. Give me less story and more stun.

This lull was blown away by amazement and visceral fear when two porcelain dolls came to life to perform 'Russian Cradle Doll'. It literally took my breath away as this huge man (Roman Tereshchenko) tossed the diminutive Olena Tereshchenko) tumbling into the sky at full thrust and then catching her only to toss her back up. Now this is what you come to the circus to see!

Professor Calamitous in Jimmy Neutron defined Steampunk as "...colonizing the past so we can dream the future." This is what Kurios is all about - pulling items out of the curio cabinet and imagining a world of possibilities for them to play in.

Around 60% of the performers - according to the press kit - have performed in other Cirque shows and now these acts have been collected into a memorandum of future possibility - their very own curio cabinet. For example the glorious siamese twins aerial straps act (Marat Dashempilov and Vitali Tomanov) which I remember from Varekai. Perhaps this is one of Cirque du Soleil's sustainability initiative to avert the climate crisis...?

There is so much top quality and sensational circus in Kurios. I personally loved the 'Acro Net' performance. I really wished I had a backyard trampoline that big when I was a kid! I thought the costumes were flying fish because there were fishermen everywhere but apparently they were Martians...? Regardless they jumped so high my heart was in my mouth every time, and Guiseppe's (Stephane Bouglione) final high dive and bounce routine nearly gave me several heart attacks!

The show publicity talks a lot about bringing the human forward in the performance and so they have done away with most stage mechanics - ensuring that all props and set items are independent units. Ironically I think that has done the opposite. For example in 'The Invisible Circus' it is the personless puppetry which takes all the limelight, and in the 'Theatre of Hands' it is the camera work which becomes the star.

Puppetry of all types, and mime, are the centrepiece of Kurios. This is such a perfect show for kids because a lot of what they do on stage can be taken home and played at home. All it takes is imagination...

Sadly we didn't get the contortion act last night and it did throw the balance of Act 1 and Act 2 out a little bit. Partly because Act 1 lost a bit of wow power, but also because the giant mechanical hand didn't make an appearance until 'Theatre of Hands' and because of that it really overpowered that act.

Having said that, the mechanicals all had life and agency in the show just as much as the humans did. For example a yappy little gramophone had a stand up stoush with the big dog in the yard (Facundo Gimenez). There is something for cat lovers too when later, Gimenez turns into a very accurate cat during the Cirque's usual tedious, exploitative, annoying, and traditional audience participation moment with a pretty young woman from the audience. A laser will point at her breasts in case you didn't know they were there. It is a sour moment in a very excellent show.

Kurios: Cabinet of Curiosities is a wonderful blend of origins (the 'Invisible Circus' reminded me of old flea circuses) with modern day whiz bang glamarama! I reckon the lighting designer (Labrecque) must have been like a kid in a candy shop exploring how light works in this circus world of wonder.

Oh, and did I mention the band? A live band playing a kind of swing/techno scat arrangement across the evening kept me bopping in my seat - to the annoyance of those around me I am sure...

Kurios: Cabinet of Curiosities is a lot of fun and perfectly crafted (of course). The performers are the best in the world and the tricks have been rehearsed to perfection with a reliability most circus performers would envy. Parents should take their kids. The family will come away with a whole lot of new fun and games to explore in their own homes of imagination.

4 Stars

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