'Kurios — Cabinet of Curiosities': Theater Review

Kurios - Cirque du Soleil - H - 2016
Courtesy of Cirque du Soleil
The venerable Canadian alt-circus company delivers one of its strongest offerings in years.

Cirque du Soleil's big-top extravaganza delivers dazzling circus acts in a 19th century, steampunk-infused setting.

Cirque du Soleil regains its mojo with Kurios — Cabinet of Curiosities, the company's most entertaining show in a long, long time. The venerable Montreal circus troupe had gotten into a rut in recent years, lapsing into repetition with its touring tent shows and faltering with such attempts at innovation as its first-ever Broadway musical, Paramour. But its latest effort, ensconced on Randall's Island in New York for a two-month run, is a dazzling return to form that, while it doesn't break new stylistic ground, demonstrates that Cirque is still the best at what it does.

Written and directed by Michel Laprise (whose credits include staging Madonna's acclaimed MDNA tour), Kurios claims to have a story of sorts, something to do with a mad scientist, dubbed "The Seeker" (Eli Scoczylas), who proposes to uncover the mysteries of the universe through the wonders found in his personal curio cabinet. From this simple setup comes a series of splendid theatrical and circus routines as visualized through a Victorian-era, steampunk aesthetic, which despite its cultural overexposure in recent years, is nonetheless enthralling.

The segments featured on an elaborately stylized, Victrola-laden set that looks like a 19th century funhouse include "Acronet," in which acrobats seem to be having the time of their lives tumbling up and down on a giant, trampoline-like net; "Aerial Straps," in which two strapping, shirtless men who initially appear to be conjoined twins separate from one another to perform a stunning overhead ballet; and "Contortion," featuring a quartet of absurdly flexible performers who strut their stuff while in the embrace of a giant mechanized hand.

Even the most familiar-feeling routines are given new life via the imaginative staging and presentation. A balancing act in which one performer stands atop an incredibly high assemblage of chairs during a dinner party becomes surreal as the identical scenario is presented, in gravity-defying fashion, upside-down from high above. A male juggler nonchalantly continues his act even while suddenly being rocketed high into the air. And a hand puppeteer uses his fingers to create miniature figures on top of an audience member's noggin, presented on a large overhead screen.

Among the show's colorful characters are "Mr. Microcosmos," who lives up to his name with a costume that seems to contain an entire world; "Mini-Lili," the charming, diminutive figure played by Antania Satsura, who, at just over three feet tall, is one of the world's smallest people; and the marvelously flexible "Accordion Man."   

A comedy routine in which clown Facundo Gimenez reverts to animalistic impulses while courting a comely female volunteer is funnier than it has a right to be, and "Invisible Circus," in which he plays a circus ringmaster presiding over a series of unseen acts suggested by automated props, provides amusing diversion.

Staged in literally breakneck fashion and further enlivened by its rollicking musical score, Kurios delivers nonstop delight.

Venue: Big Top on Randall's Island, New York
Director-writer: Michel Laprise
Director of creation: Chantal Tremblay
Set and props designer: Stephane Roy
Costume designer: Philippe Guillotel

Lighting designer: Martin Labrecque
Music: Raphael Beau, Bob & Bill
Sound designers: Jacques Boucher, Jean-Michel Caron
Choreographers: Yaman Okur, Ben Potvin, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, Susan Gaudreau, Andrea Ziegler
Presented by Cirque du Soleil