When Cirque du Soleil first came to Australia in 1999 with Saltimbanco, audiences hadn’t seen anything like it. The combination of extraordinary acrobatic and physical acts performed by an international cast to immersive live music, all wrapped up in a dazzling, highly polished spectacle, was worlds removed from any circus we had seen.
Kurios: Cabinet of Curiosities. All photographs supplied
Founded in 1984 in Montreal by street performers Guy Laliberté and Gilles Ste-Croix, Cirque du Soleil is now a cultural juggernaut, with five resident shows in Las Vegas and international tours constantly crossing the world. The company has been back to Australia many times since 1999 with productions including Alegría, Dralion, Kooza, Quidam, Varekai and Toruk – The First Flight.
They have all used a similar formula, building the show around a central theme with a matching design aesthetic, and have all been staged with sumptuous sophistication, but some productions have felt rather slick and soulless.
Kurios: Cabinet of Curiosities is the company at its best. Not only is the show lavishly staged but it has humour too. What’s more, the impossibly skilled performers seem to radiate enjoyment while undertaking remarkable, daring feats.
Written and directed by Michel Laprise, Kurios is based around a character called The Seeker, an inventor who has created some strange, exotic creatures who try to bring the imaginary world of which he dreams to life. Or something like that. You don’t really need to bother about the narrative, which is loose to say the least. But what the story does do, is give the designers a steampunk aesthetic to play with – and they have done a brilliant job, bringing a Victorian carnival feel to the wonderful, dark, mysterious world they have devised (set design by Stéphane Roy, costume design by Philippe Guillotel).
Staged in the company’s Grand Chapiteau, there is plenty to intrigue the audience as they wait for the show to begin. The stage resembles a mad scientist’s lab with two hanging contraptions of cogs, wheels and pulleys, glass cabinets containing various curiosities, old record players merged with typewriters and gramophone horns, an organ, and a rickety bridge which various audience members are invited to cross. There are also weird insect-like creatures, and an Accordion Man.
Once the show gets going, the skill-set of the performers is off the chart, with each act leading seamlessly into another. The man who does the chair balancing act performs so effortlessly, it defies belief. There’s a wonderful twist to the act too. The four women who combine for a contortion routine on a giant mechanical hand bend with such elasticity they seem to be boneless. The Rola Bola act looks so crazy-brave you wonder how anyone can survive it – and smile so cheerily at the same time.
There’s also a dashing juggler, a pair of “Siamese twins” who part company to become a flying duet, an aerial act on a bicycle, an Acro Net routine on a giant trampoline which had the audience whooping, and a yo-yo performer who had you questioning how on earth anyone could be doing that with a yo-yo.
There’s also one of the smallest ladies in the world, whose tiny house is revealed inside the great belly of another performer, an invisible circus presented by a clown who is actually funny (watch him playing a cat coughing up a fur ball), and more.
The music, meanwhile, has a jazzy, electro, world vibe, and is performed live by a terrific band and a fabulous singer (who wears a gramophone horn on her head).
All in all, it’s a delight, whisking you away into a mysterious world where the performers do the seemingly impossible with the greatest of ease, and appear to be having a wonderful time doing it.
Kurios: Cabinet of Curiosities plays in the Grand Chapiteau at Sydney’s Entertainment Quarter until November 24