Hurry, hurry, step right up! Cirque du Soleil is back in town.
Since making its 1992 debut in Japan, the Montreal-based theatrical circus has catapulted from a Québécois household name straight into the Japanese lexicon. Kicking off its five-city tour in Tokyo on Feb 7, Cirque du Soleil’s latest spectacle will showcase its 30th-anniversary production: “Kurios: Cabinet of Curiosities.”
With a desire to go back to basics, the trailblazing “nouveau cirque,” or “contemporary circus,” troupe looks to the past to reinvent its present. Far from being a pageantry of pantomimes, Cirque du Soleil has won over worldwide audiences with its avant-garde synthesis of acrobatics, seamless choreography, sublime musical scores, and the spirited exuberance of vaudeville—a hodgepodge of gaudy entertainment acts hailing from a bygone era.
The storyline behind “Kurios,” however, delves beyond the founders’ French Canadian roots as street performers. Rather, the line between reality and fantasy deftly blur at the end of the 19th century in a fictional neo-Victorian world that fixates on the steampunk subculture.
Just when you think you’ve seen every permutation of a Cirque performance, the creative enterprise—notably, writer and director Michel Laprise—defies both gravity and expectations.
Returning as Japan’s 14th touring production, the big-top extravaganza has subsequently breathed life into various themes upon its carnivalesque stage. From portraying generational power struggles in “Alegría,” reviving ancient Chinese acrobatic art in “Dralion,” to narrating the late King of Pop’s rise to fame in “Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour,” each show ambitiously reinvents itself while redefining the very concept of “circus.”
“One of the big inspirations behind ‘Kurios’ is that anything is possible,” Rachel Lancaster, the show’s artistic director, says. “There will, of course, be dynamic acrobats and distinctively new characters, but ‘Kurios’ simultaneously exists in a different world.”
Featuring the tagline “Seeing is disbelieving,” this otherworldly aesthetic and artistic prowess is apparent upon first glimpse of three hair-raising acts at the Tokyo press preview.
Once the clock strikes 11:11, a zany juggler in a dapper three-piece suit emerges, only to begin tossing props, one by one, at impressive heights with lightning-fast agility. Keeping in character, the “Curiosistanian” (a term for inhabits of the parallel universe “Curiosistan”) flawlessly traverses in front of wide-eyed spectators, totally in sync with the Gatsby-esque tune accompanying his hypnotic performance.
The spotlight then turns to a 13-foot apparatus where two trapeze artists (a husband-and-wife duo) perform a heart-stopping feat of flight—a routine coined the “Russian Cradle.” At one point, the statuesque strongman flings his petite partner in mid-air, morphing into a human swinging bar as the female flyer carries out intricate somersaults. Literally out on a limb, the audience holds its breath during the aerialist number that is as much about adrenaline as about trust.
Following a round of synchronized applause, the sepia-toned accoutrements take a timeout as a spellbinding segment of electric eels take center stage.
Dressed in catsuits adorned with fluorescent specks, four contortionists mimic the wriggling movements of jarred specimens that have sprung to life from the Seeker’s (an archetypal “mad scientist”) curio cabinet. Maintaining pinpoint precision, the quartet of loose-limbed performers pretzel their bodies with astonishing pace and panache—quite simply, a marvel of superhuman flexibility.
In crafting “Kurios’” enchantment, Laprise explains that he modeled the far-flung fantasy on “steampunk” precisely because “it is the antithesis of technology.”
“The whole principle of steampunk is, ‘What would have happened if electricity wasn’t discovered?’ We would still be using the power of steam. [Kurios] has got that retro, futuristic element…[because] we are in the past, but also, we are in a place of profound inventions at every single moment. So that ingenuity was interesting for me.”
As the story progresses within the protagonist’s makeshift mechanical world, it’s also hard not to notice the amazing collection of antiques that enhance the choreographic spectacle.
From telegraphs to gramophones to a gigantic cyborg-like hand, Laprise further elucidates that the set design’s Victorian-era aesthetic reference to the 1900 Paris Exposition Universelle—a monumental year after the Eiffel Tower was unveiled. Even the main characters are innovations that harken back to the rise of the Industrial Revolution: Mr Microcosmos (an Oz-like steam engine), Klara the Telegraph of the Invisible, and Nico the Accordion Man.
But in typical Cirque du Soleil fashion, the curiously quirky “Kurios” is a spectacle that must be seen in person to fully experience its awe-inducing glimpse into another world.
As Laprise puts it, the theatrical fantasy makes for “an upbeat, uplifting, and addictive show” that dazzles the mind, challenges our perception of reality, and, with the purity of intention, “brings joy to people.”
Even if only an ephemeral escape from real-world woes, come unlock a cabinet of curiosities from “Kurios’” at Odaiba Big Top.
Cirque du Soleil: Kurios: Cabinet of Curiosities
Due to the nature of the acts in the show, changes in the cast and the content may occur.
Wednesday, February 7, 2018 through July 8 at Odaiba Big Top; “Kurios” will continue its Japan Tour in Osaka, Nagoya, Fukuoka and Sendai.
Tickets: 0570-020-520 (Fujitv Direct Information Desk -- Japanese only)
Running time: 2 hours & 15 minutes, including one 30-minute intermission
Access: Daiba Station via the Yurikamome Line; Tokyo Teleport Station via the Rinkai Line
http://www.fujitv.co.jp/en/e_17_07.html (Event Outline & Ticket Pricing)
http://www.kurios.jp (Official website, Japanese only)