Go ahead: satisfy your Kuriosity

In Kurios, Rola Bola is one of the best acts.

My man James Eulises Gonzalez balances like this, way up in the air, on a moving swing. Shut up.

It’s worth it. Like a great pair of shoes or an indulgent vacation, a great night out is worth a splurge. And Kurios – Cabinet of Curiosities is a great night out.

The world of this Cirque du Soleil production, which premiered in 2014, is steam-punk: it’s fascinated with mechanical invention and science, so, thanks to set designer Stéphane Roy, contortionists perform atop a giant mechanical hand and an acrobat makes his entrance in a fantastical flying machine. There’s a sly undertow to this Victoriana as well, a rebellion from the organic world. Those female contortionists, and, later, a group of trampolining men are exotic biological specimens: their costumes make them look like brilliantly coloured geckos, but they are gilled; after flying through the air, the men flirtatiously flutter the scaly ruffs around their heads and hips. When a scientist tries to capture the contortionists in a bell jar, they defy him.

So that’s all very cool. That said, Kurios has some rough spots and empty spaces in Act 1.

The evening starts slowly, vaguely setting up characters before evolving into the opening act, “Chaos Synchro”, which combines the skills of a juggler and a percussionist. The pure juggling skills are never dazzling—although the production tarts things up by flying the juggler—and watching a drummer beat out rhythms on a table with his drumsticks just isn’t that theatrical.

“Aerial Bicylce”, in which a woman performs trapeze-like skills using a bike as her trapeze, is underwhelming, and “Upside Down World”, a standard chair-balancing act is saved by the concept. I must say, though, that that concept is great. As an acrobat balances on an ever-higher stack of chairs, his mirror image, an upside-down acrobat suspended from the roof of the tent, builds a descending stack of chairs until the two finally meet.

For me, the biggest problem with Act 1 of Kurios is that the filler moments don’t fill up. The most successful Cirque du Soleil shows, including many of the earliest, featured excellent, original, spontaneous clowning. By offering giddiness that isn’t as terrifying as the acrobatics, clowns act as palate cleansers and they ease transitions. But, in Act 1, the material performed by emcee and clown Facundo Giminez, isn’t funny. His big number “Invisible Circus” is a largely predictable riff on the idea of flea circuses. Other characters, including a tiny woman called Mini Lili, provide texture—it’s momentarily lovely when Mini Lili rows a small boat around the circumference of the circus ring—but these creatures never provide narrative or theatrical satisfaction: they just float around being vaguely symbolic and atmospheric.

I don’t want any of this to come across as too big a knock, though, because there are phenomenal riches in Kurios. An aerial act called “Russian Cradle” provides the first thrills of the evening. Those reptilian contortionists are exquisite and “Rola Bola”, the Act 1 finale, is breathtaking. In “Rola Bola”, James Eulises Gonzalez balances on cylinders that are stacked on top of one another. Then—get this—he balances on those extremely wobbly cylinders on a swing as it swoops back and forth way up in the air. Gonzalez has personality to burn and a smile that outcharms even his dashing aviator costume.

The Contortionists are one of the best acts in Cirque du Soleil's Kurios.

The contortionists in Kurios are elegant, skilled, and just a tad creepy. That combo makes for a great package.

Virtually all of Act 2 works. It starts off with “Acronet”, in which a bunch of lithe young men—maybe seven of them—fly through the air, trampolining off a net that takes up the whole circus ring. This number, too, is full of cheeky personality as well as heart-stopping tricks. “Continent of Doubles”, in which two handsome men soar on aerial straps is lyrical and subtly erotic (for me at least). And “Banquine”, the Act 2 finale, in which acrobats catapult onto one another’s shoulders until they are four-deep, is dazzling.

I also appreciate the more daring textures of Act 2, including a genius yo-yo performance, and the surprisingly low-key and satisfying “Theater of Hands”. In that number, a gigantic lantern descends and, using only their hands, performers act out encounters and activities—including skateboarding—that are projected live onto the lantern.

Interestingly, the clown number in the second half also succeeds. That’s because, when Giminez has an audience member to play with, he is able to add the thrill of spontaneity to the mix.

Throughout, Philippe Guillotel’s costumes are often fanciful: one of the supporting characters, whose body seems to be part vacuum cleaner and part caterpillar has a face that’s reminiscent of an African mask. And Guillotel knows about colour: the bicycle aerialist’s costume consists of a butterscotch jacket, ruby cap, and baby blue leggings. It made me want to redecorate my house.

Tickets for Kurios range between $49 and $180 That top end might seem pricey, but Kurious offers a unique experience and, in the mid-range seats, you’ll be more than fine, you’ll be awe-struck.

KURIOS – CABINET OF CURIOSITIES Created and directed by Michel Laprise. A Cirque du Soleil production under the big top at Concord Pacific Place on Thursday, October 19. Continues until December 31.

Get your tickets here.

About Colin Thomas

Colin Thomas is a Vancouver-based editor, an award-winning playwright, and an established theatre critic. Colin helps writers unlock the full potential of their novels, short stories, screenplays, and children's books.

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