Conjoined twins separate to become muscular airborne demi-gods who still crave the touch of each others' flesh. Tattooed mermen from a Pierre et Gilles fantasy escape a looming net, shed their tails and soar through the air into each others' arms. An invisible lion escapes his cage and roars through the crowd, searching for, and finding, affection. Clockwork creatures fret and fuss making sure everything moves smoothly and to their satisfaction. Regal Mini Lili peers out from her home in the belly of a robot and is astounded, pleased and amused. At one point she even headbangs with sheer and uncharacteristically unrestrained excitement. A lonely scientist hoping for magic beyond the mechanical, hops aboard a train full of fabulous freaks and runs away with the circus.
An audience expecting an evening's entertainment, finds itself unexpectedly awestruck and moved across a spectrum of emotions. The dominant emotion is sheer joy.
Kurios makes one believe that dreams can come true.
A top-notch circus has three rings and is thrilling. Cirque du Soleil's Kurios combines a minimum of three interlocking spectacles onto one stage - one central ring with many levels - and garnishes them all with steampunk style. It is quite simply exhilarating.
When there are three rings, all simultaneously filled with excitement, it can be difficult to decide where to watch, how to take it all in. Kurios, as well, is impossible to absorb all at once, it washes over one with waves of amazement and delight, but there is never any question of where your eyes should be focussed. The astonishing athletic feats are slyly introduced, subtly lit and underlined with sonics that entrance the ear. The result is a fast-paced extravaganza that is a fever dream.
Cirque du Soleil always presents acts that are breathtaking and either utterly original or clever updates of classic circus traditions. Kurios integrates the individual acts into a thematic and surreal world that moves with the energy of an intricate novel. The plot is virtually non-existent and the number of recurring symbols and ideas is staggering (aquatic animals, bicycles, The Wizard of Oz, feline superiority, electricity, the power of music, etc, etc). Without the firm hand of writer/director Michel Laprise it could be intimidatingly chaotic but instead one is lulled into a suspension of disbelief, a safe zone where anything can happen and will. The ideas, connections and rich metaphors slide sensuously into the subconscious to await contemplation.
The acts are all wonderful but the Aerial Straps number is an erotic highlight, achieving what Bel Ami's Peters twins have been attempting but in a much more poetic manner. The "just watch me" grin on the face of the central Acro Net character, just before he and his semi-aquatic compatriots are flung impossibly high into the peaks of the Grand Chapiteau, is utterly engaging. The muscle-bound catcher in the Banquine appears to struggle with his dance moves before surprising all. The invisible circus is a one-note joke that finds multiple layers and a cascade of laughter. A balancing act rises to undoubtedly record heights. And special mention must be made of the clowns who lube the entr'actes with comedy and grace.
Gramophones glide across and around the stage, reminding of those moments in time when, steampunkingly, it seems that anything that can be imagined can be created. The Kurios band seems able to produce whatever music is needed and the score, a canny concoction mashing Cajun with big beats and traditional circus calliope flourishes. Pop hooks are embedded in the mix by singer Eirini Tornesaki's ethereal-with-guts vocals to create a contagiously catchy momentum. It is the best score since Allegria (and yes that includes the Michael Jackson score) and manages to rock harder than Amaluna's self-consciously rock n' roll score. And it doesn't hurt that the drummer is not only extremely hot but also juggles admirably.
The Grand Chapiteau offers an intimacy, an immersive environment, that Kurios takes full advantage of. The moment one steps through the canvas doorway the stage is full of contraptions and creatures and scientists. The Banquine acrobats moved so deeply into the audience that it rivals the fabled opening of The Lion King. Where Totem offered the exquisite sight of Joe Putignano descending from the heavens clad in mirrors, Kurios provides a flock of mutated crows who introduce an opening production number that would do a Broadway hit proud, but with the addition of impressive juggling that threatens, teases, to spill into the crowd. The sound effects happen all around and the expressive faces of the cast reach across the floodlights.
It is the attention to detail that creates the intensity of this "cabinet of curiosities." Pages of a book are turned by the power of the mind. Bicycles powered by human muscle shift scenery. All the cables are disguised as seaworthy, and sea worn, rope. The multitudes of meticulous details hint at some profundity beyond the celebration of just what a human body can do. What does it all mean? It doesn't matter. The audience may well ponder the possibilities of science and the human imagination, but first they rise to their feet in a heartfelt outpouring of gratitude for being gifted with so much joy.
Kurios continues until Sun, Oct 26 under Le Grand Chapiteau at 51 Commissioners St. cirquedusoleil.com