Cirque du Soleil’s “Kurios” Packed with the Usual Curiosities

Presented by Cirque du Soleil 
Written and directed by Michel Laprise
Director of creation – Chantal Tremblay
Compositions and music direction by Raphaël Beau
Compositions and arrangements by Guy Dubuc and Marc Lessard
Acrobatic choreography by Andrea Ziegler, Rob Bollinger, Yaman Okur, Ben Potvin, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, Susan Gaudreau, Germain Guillemot, Boris Verkhovsky, Danny Zen

May 26th (premier) – July 10th, 2016
Suffolk Downs
525 McClellan Highway
East Boston, MA 02128
Kurious on Facebook

Review by Gillian Daniels

(Suffolk Downs, Boston, MAKurios, unlike the other two Cirque du Soleil shows I’ve reviewed for The New England Theatre Geek, is tied to a world of technology and innovation. In 2012, Totem offered meditations on natural history, complete with frogs. Amaluna came to Boston in 2014 and involved a shipwreck on an island wild with magic, a loose adaptation of The Tempest. Kurios, though, is centered on 19th century trains, gramophones, laboratories, and aerial machines.

There are some damn good acts here. A messenger bicyclist is lifted into the air on her way to make a special delivery. A dinner party is overturned so a man can stack chairs and climb to the top of the tent—where a mirror image of the dinner party is doing the same, but in the opposite direction. The clowns/narrators are also fun, specifically an electric woman that appears to be modeled on Maria from the silent science fiction film, Metropolis (1927). Kurios oozes charm, dripping with a steampunk glamour that will leave a certain kind of geeky, Boston denizen very pleased, indeed. Top hats and gears attached to dresses were numerous among the audience with whom I saw it.

Not every act falls into this idea of innovation. A number of them have a more nautical theme, perhaps hinting at a very different show earlier in development. The wonderful contortionist act that takes place on a giant hand has the players dressed in spandex that emulates striped fish. In a hilarious trampoline net act, bearded sailors shuck their raincoats to reveal scales underneath. The latter is the most weightless and joyful of the stunts on display.

Cirque du Soleil has set the bar so many times, it has some trouble out-doing itself. How do you make acrobatic acts more interesting than the life-and-death in spandex potential-catastrophes they already are? Too much of a good thing can be wonderful, but too much acrobatic skill can be numbing. There’s a reason this particular circus only comes to Boston once every two years.

Beyond the juxtaposition of technology and aquarium life, the other thing that doesn’t quite fit with the show is how male-heavy it is. Totem and Amaluna were a bit more even-handed in gender. There are memorable female characters, here—a little woman who lives inside the port hole tank body of one of the clowns, for instance, and the previously mentioned bicycle messenger for another—but they’re few and far between. This is a decidedly masculine show, where women are rarely the center of the action. Usually, they faint while throwing dinner parties and are objects of affection on awkward dates. But why? Just because most of the show is done in the Bunsen burner and hot air balloon style of the 19th century shouldn’t mean it has to emulate some of its more archaic gender politics.

Qualms aside, Kurios is as gorgeous and surreal as Cirque du Soleil’s best work. When the frame story of Kurios is revealed to be a waking dream by a distinguished scientist, it comes as little surprise. Cirque du Soleil specializes in night time hallucinations—evocative imagery, stunning costumes, and loosely connected pieces strung together by theme, like individual beads on a precious but strange necklace. Kurios is the same sort of deep sea treasure.

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