Writer/Director : Michel Laprise; Entertainment Quarter, Moore Park; 2 Oct – 24 Nov 2019.
Reviewed : Oct 2, 2019
Every time I’ve seen Cirque du Soleil – here, in Canada, in Las Vegas – it’s the total theatricality of the whole that has most impressed. Sure, the acts are world class and the skill and exactitude of the performers stuns every time, just as they do in other circus-style events. But Cirque du Soleil is different. It isn’t just circus, it’s theatre – where the ‘circus’ is tied to a central theme that infuses the whole.
Every new program is a lesson in imaginative innovation, scrupulous planning and meticulous direction. Costumes, colour, choreography, continuity – and live music – are part of the on-going motif that pervades the performance, which is meticulously directed and precisely timed.
For Kurios, writer/director, Michel Laprise gone to the motif of Steampunk, the 1980s ‘science fantasy’ genre based on writers such as Jules Verne and H.G. Wells and the steam-powered machinery of the industrial revolution. The possibilities for a director with a creative imagination are endless, and Laprise makes the very most of them in his Cabinet of Curiosities.
The ring and big top become a modern museum of steam powered artefacts and machines. Clocks similar to Tim Wetherill’s Clockwork Universe at Questacon shimmering in glass covers move around the outskirts of the ring. Enormous industrial-style constructions frame the entrance to the stage. A steam train chugs in and disgorges suitcases carrying performers who deftly introduce the next sequence. An airship hovers above the stage in one scene; an open bi-plane delivers a performer in another. A top-hatted Wonderland figure’s huge bronze skirt opens to reveal a diminutive Edwardian lady who emerges with a miniscule watering can. Banks of lights pick up and sustain the electro-futuristic Steampunk theme. Funky musicians and a trilling soprano standing high above the ring set the ticking pace of the action.
As they arrive, some audience members accept the offer to cross a shiny, wobbly, metallic suspension bridge for a guided tour back stage. Dismantling that bridge prior to the beginning of the show is a perfect example of the organisation and timing needed for a performance such as this.
Victorian costumes – bustiers, corsets, gowns, waistcoats, braces, top hats, bowler hats, tailcoats – are contemporised in multiple shades of mustard, brown, cerise and varied blues and greens. Timepieces, chains, parasols and driving goggles abound. All are carefully coordinated, harmonised. Old-fashioned yellow raincoats and hats are shed to reveal multicoloured leotards and tights, some decorated with colourful cogs and wheels. Every costume, whether worn by an acrobat flying on a bicycle or ladder high above the ring, or a clown scrutinising the safety of a performer, is ‘geared’ to the theme. Gold and brass sparkle on the leggings of athletes swinging on elastic arm bands; ruffles are fluttered of the fish-like head pieces of daring trampolinists.
That theatricality is what makes Cirque du Soleil different. Every performer is part of the theme. There is a sense of ensemble rather than individual acts framed by a ringmaster or a clown. Don’t get me wrong, the individual performers are the best in their field. Their acts are first class. They are highly trained, superbly fit, daringly brave. Their timing is exquisite, their skills incredible. But they are also required to be actors, dancers, comedians, every one of them an intricate part of the theatre that is the trademark of a Cirque du Soleil program.
Even the ‘clowns’ give more than tricks and pratfalls. One of the most memorable ‘curiosities’ in this program that involved everything from finger puppets enlarged through a curved airship screen, to extraordinary balancing, to impressive yo-yo twirling, was that of the clown who became the ‘confidant’ of the audience. Lithe, quirky and a master of the art of mime, his depiction of a cat making up to a member of the audience hijacked on to the stage was a brilliant example of his art.
Kurios has all the intrepid, breathtaking acrobatic and balancing feats you expect of a circus. It has all the fun of clowning. The spectacle of the big top. But it is so much more.