Produced by Cirque du Soleil
Playing at the United Center, Chicago
Steampunk and Fish Make a Wondrous Circus
Four years after its last engagement in Chicago, Cirque du Soleil is back with a new show, a new director, and renewed creative energy. Kurios—Cabinet of Curiosities, which debuted in Montreal in April of last year, is the first Cirque show to be directed by Michel Laprise, who has been with the company for fifteen years. He made sure his directing debut would be a triumph. Not only does the Cirque ensemble display astonishing physical skill in their acrobatics, among other feats, but the design and music are also the best of their fields. As, too, are the organizers and implementers of Cirque’s well-oiled commercial machine, and the stage crew responsible for keeping the main event running smoothly. Located in a big blue and yellow tent in the United Center’s parking lot, this production epitomizes professionalism in the entertainment industry.
Our story, such as it is, concerns a scientist, called the Seeker (Anton Valen), who believes in a hidden world, which he investigates with his robots and sparky fin de siècle contraptions amid his aquariums. At 11:11, representatives of the magic world appear, and take him on a tour of his laboratory, now merged with the fantastic parallel universe Curiosistan. Meaning, we are treated to two hours of some of the world’s finest and most daring acrobats, contortionists, and puppeteers, creatively attired by Philippe Guillotel in, for the most part, metallic tones. According to the press packet (there is an extensive one which details the inspiration for each design available on Cirque du Soleil’s website, if you are interested), both the Seeker’s world and Curiosistan are gentler, more humanistic places than our own, allowing them to host a light-hearted romp that celebrates the achievements of the human body, even at the appearance of great risk to it.
That trust in humanity is displayed in the first act after the introduction, Russian Cradle Duo, in which Roman Tereshchenko tosses his wife, Olena Tereshchenko, in a trapeze act notable for the fact that he is the trapeze. Following intermission, we see the Seeker separate conjoined twins (Roman Tomanov and Vitali Tomanov), allowing them to soar high above the audience while grasping long straps, joining together and flying apart as freely as they please. Technology is celebrated here as a liberating force, when first a cyclist (Anne Weissbecker) peddles upside down high above the stage, and then a biplane pilot (James Eulises Gonzalez) demonstrates rola bola on a swinging platform. Animals, too, are appreciated in Curiosistan, where the Seeker’s electric eels have been transformed into contortionists, and marine life breeches with the aid of a massive trampoline until they seem to nearly touch the roof of the tent. And that’s only to describe a few of the acts, some of which are also quite funny.
Raphaël Beau and Bob and Bill (Guy Dubuc and Marc Lessard) composed and directed music which is a welcome guide throughout the show, especially at the percussion-heavy beginning. Cirque du Soleil’s mix of French Canadian and Eastern European influence is reflected in the songs, which mostly have a folk-infused jazz sound with their brass, strings, and woodwinds, although at one point, an actress onstage plays the theremin. Singer Eirini Tornesaki is energetic and exciting, not that the feats the acrobats accomplish left much room for lag, but she contributed her own grace. Stéphane Roy’s scenic designs consist of small set pieces for each act, which are remarkably consistent in look and include everything from a dinner party table to a giant mechanical hand. Add Martin Labrecque’s elaborate lighting, Eleni Uranis’s detailed make-up, and a small army of choreographers, and the world of curiosities becomes immersive from the moment you enter the theatre.
When it comes to contemporary circus, there’s no beating Cirque du Soleil. With the addition of new talent, the commercial giant is not resting on its laurels, nor has it sacrificed artistic innovation. Rather, the sprawling grand chapiteau houses the best of both touring company accommodations and entertainment. Of course, such quality costs money, but it is well-spent by anyone who even thinks they might have an interest in a clean, highly technical, human-act centered circus (perhaps the recent tour of Pippin will attract some new fans). I know Kurios brought out the inner child in many of the adults sitting around me on opening night, and the children sat raptured. The best of theatrical spectacle will remain in town for several more weeks.
Reviewed August 6, 2015
For more information, see Cirque du Soleil-Kurios’ page on Theatre in Chicago.
Playing in the United Center parking lot, 1901 W Madison Street, Chicago.