When Cirque du Soleil was founded in Canada in 1984, it redefined the idea of the circus. Its latest show, “Kurios: Cabinet of Curiosities,” lives up to the troupe’s unique reputation of being about more than just jugglers and acrobats — though those characters are still accounted for.
In what can only be described as a whimsical steampunk fever dream, the story of “Kurios” begins when the experiments of a mad scientist called The Seeker go sideways, just as the clock strikes 11:11, a magical minute during which wishes come true and “reality is relative.” We are then taken on a strange journey though the worlds within The Seeker’s “cabinet of curiosities.”
The costumes, set pieces and live musical performances from a vocalist and band, all come together to create an atmosphere reminiscent of La Belle Epoque, but imbued with a greater sense of madness. Robots, mechanical paraphernalia and even phonographs glide around the edges of the stage, chasing the performers.
The show features an array of characters, like the diminutive Mini Lili, who resides inside the bulbous Mr. Microcosmos; The Mentalist, with clockwork gears projected within the giant bulb in his turban; Klara, a clown with a dizzying hoop skirt and an antenna protruding from her head; and Nico, a man whose entire body looks like an accordion.
Many of the other characters are dressed as underwater creatures, the most striking being the contortionists who enter the stage looking like a pile of limbs resting atop a giant mechanical hand, but soon disassemble their eerie jumble to resemble electric eels. The contortionists agilely whip around the hand in a highly choreographed performance, moving completely in sync.
The most impressive physical feats, however, happen over the heads of the audience. The show literally soars, as acrobats and aerialists fly through the air.
In “Upside Down World,” the scene begins with a dinner party of revelers. One of the diners decides to perform a balancing act, building a tower of chairs to reach a chandelier dangling high above them. As the diner climbs higher and higher while performing elaborate balancing acts, a parallel universe with a mirror image of the dinner table and diners appears from the ceiling.
There were multiple times throughout the performance where I found myself gasping in disbelief at what the acrobats and aerialists were attempting to do, but no one had me as transfixed as The Aviator in “Rola Bola,” a balancing act with cylinders and planks that exceeded all expectations when he flirted with gravity on a giant swinging platform.
The show is not all about spectacular athleticism, though. It’s the theatrical element that makes Cirque du Soleil unique, as shown in “Invisible Circus,” which stokes the audience’s imagination, and “Theater of Hands,” a delightful piece of mixed-media performance art. The camera work and deft “hand dancing” is surprisingly charming. Who knew a hand could convey so much personality — or break-dance for that matter?
By the end of the (approximately) two-hour show, there was no doubt that the audience — filled with people of all ages — had been transported to a more curious time and place.
“Kurios: Cabinet of Curiosities” runs through July 8 at Odaiba Big Top in Tokyo. It then moves to Nakanoshima Big Top in Osaka (July 26-Oct. 29) before heading to Nagoya Big Top (Nov. 22-Jan. 27, 2019). For more information, visit www.cirquedusoleil.com/kurios.