Anyone who has ever rifled through a cupboard to find a snack will understand the appeal of Cirque du Soleil’s latest show, Kurios. The Cabinet of Curiosities has some truly remarkable delights amidst its many shelves – treats that will tickle your imagination and leave you hungry for more. Whether or not your appetite is satisfied in the end, however, may be up to personal taste.
On the heels of Cirque Du Soleil’s Totem and Amaluna, which explored the journey of man and an Amazonian society, respectively, Kurios feels more like a themed party. Writer/Director Michel Laprise, the man behind Madonna’s memorable 2012 Super Bowl Halftime show, doesn’t hold back from establishing a fun tone, but his concept doesn’t quite fully come together.
One is immediately impressed by the elaborate set, with its rotating gramophones and steampunkish bric-à-brac. It serves as a backdrop for the evening’s events but goes largely unexplored by the performers, who flood the stage en-masse in the show’s opening moments. Their costumes are delightful and decidedly curious but when presented all at once, overwhelm the audience. Kurios would have been better served by holding back a bit, and presenting each of the characters in a context that would allow us to become invested in them as individuals instead of distracted by a mob scene.
In fairness, Cirque has long made a tradition of publicizing certain characters in their ad campaigns that end up being virtual ciphers in the shows themselves. That intriguing gent with the accordion-style pants who features prominently in all the marketing for Kurios turns out to be little more than a background player and observer, much like Totem’s sparkling “Crystal Man.” Thankfully, one diminutive performer, an older woman who journeys around the stage in an egg-shaped house, gets a little more exposure, if no big “moment” all her own.
Even if Kurios doesn’t always make the most of its characters, it still has some of the best acts you could hope to see under a big top. There are the nimble contortionists balancing on an oversized metallic hand while dressed in fish-like leotards. The juxtaposition of the aquatic and metallic make for an extremely surreal visual in a show with plenty to spare. A fantastic act featuring a gravity-defying mirrored performance will leave your jaw gaping at a sight that one would assume could only be achieved in a CGI-laden fantasy film. The showstopper, however, might be a balancing act that takes the art of keeping oneself perched atop a circular object to breathtaking new heights. That one alone is worth the ticket price.
If there is one performer whose ability and charisma nearly eclipses the rest of the production, however, it’s David-Alexandre Després as Kurios’ endlessly engaging clown. Offering up a hilarious version of “The Greatest Circus You’ve Never Seen,” and then a bizarre first date in which he transforms into various pets, Després proves that all it takes to get a crowd in the palm of your hand is showmanship and terrific comedic timing. While he’s undoubtedly going to be busy with Kurios for the foreseeable future, it’ll be interesting to see where he goes from here. After all, it isn’t often that you’ll find yourself wishing an entire second act focused entirely on a clown flirting awkwardly on a couch.
Some of the slightly less successful moments involve a pair of “conjoined” twins who, in theory, should steal the show when they finally break free of one another. Instead, as they fly through the air and gently caress each other, you might find yourself wondering if their chemistry isn’t suggesting some kind of romantic tension instead of brotherly love. As previously stated, there’s a bizarrely aquatic theme to the whole show that is never quite explained. We even get an entire number devoted to men waving their fins suggestively (and comically) at the crowd. How that figures into the rest is anyone’s guess. The final number involving leaps and tumbles is pleasant enough, but once the music kicks in and the performers lean over the side of the stage to get the crowd revved up, their awkward finger-snaps and stiff dance moves somewhat deflate the mood.
And so, Kurios can be, at times, a bit of a head-scratcher. Entertaining, poetic and even exhilarating, yet also a tad bit scattered and unresolved, it begs the question: does circus benefit from narrative cohesion and character development? Or is the form purely about the appreciation of each gesture and physical act, liberated from any greater significance?
Go decide for yourself.
Kurios runs until July 13 at the Big Top in the Old Port. For more information and to purchase tickets, call 1-800-450-1480 or visit Cirque du Soleil online.
James Gartler is a former editor of Rover.