In 1984, Guy Laliberté and Gilles Ste-Croix founded what would eventually become the world's largest theatrical producer. Now, 30 years later, Cirque du Soleil has been on a whirlwind ride of successes and failures, with "Kurios - Cabinet of Curiosities" most definitely falling into the former category. Written and directed by Michel Laprise, "Kurios" is a steampunk-inspired show where time stops and the world of physics bursts open.
The two halves can be roughly thought of as being divided according to energy: the first is the limits of the human body stretched to its finest and most jaw-dropping, while the second half takes on an almost poetic form with its grace and subtlety. That's not to say that one's more impressive than the other — although you will have your favourite(s) — but that Laprise has designed them to appeal to different senses.
For instance, an invisible circus where an invisible lion runs around the interior of Le Grand Chapiteau is paired with four writhing octopus-like women who balance upon each other on a giant mechanical hand; in the second half, Tomonari 'Black' Ishiguro spins two yo-yos as though they were the hands of a clock gone mad, which actually pairs perfectly with a breakdancing hand.
Along the way, there's also a Mary Poppins-like upside down dinner party, David-Alexandre Després inviting a woman up on stage where he becomes a cat, male and female gymnasts soaring through the air with equal agility, two chiseled men soaring around the circus on aerial straps, a male and female acrobat team using each other to perform maneuvers, and an aviator who seems to balance impossibly on a tower of balls and squares — while on a platform that swings back and forth. And as Kurios's host, the Seeker (Anton Valen), a Thomas Edison meets Lewis Carroll type, shows us what's in his imagination, as well as in that largely protruding belly of his (it turns out to be a French madame-inspired alter ego, Mini Lilli, played by Antanina Satsura).
It's Cirque du Soleil at its finest, which is to say they've stripped all the superfluousness away and gotten back to basics: a show that makes you question just what is humanly and physically possible. With Stéphane Roy in charge of the set design, Philippe Guillotel taking care of the costuming and Eleni Uranis making each performer look like the the wildest exaggerations of 19th-century performers, "Kurios - Cabinet of Curiosities" is the finest work Cirque du Soleil has put on in years.
And when you go see it, keep one thing in mind: it's better to just sit back and enjoy the ride rather than trying to construct a linear or sensical narrative of it all. It's a wonder of majesty that'll have you feeling like a kid again.
"Cirque du Soleil: Kurios - Cabinet of Curiosities" runs through October 26 at Le Grand Chapiteau at the Port Lands. For more information and tickets, visit the Cirque du Soleil website.