Photo: Martin Girard / shootstudio.ca © 2014 Cirque du Soleil
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Cirque du Soleil’s ‘Kurios: Cabinet of Curiosities’ unlocks surreal world of wonders

By Jessica Sayuri Boissy
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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.

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Chaos Synchro 1900. A locomotive pulls into the train station and lets off a motley group of passengers straight from the 19th century: eccentrics, acrobats, a juggler, percussionists and dancers in their Sunday best. Photo: Martin Girard / shootstudio.ca © 2014 Cirque du Soleil

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.”

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Cabinet of Curiosities has a cast of 46 artists from 16 different countries. Photo: Martin Girard / shootstudio.ca © 2014 Cirque du Soleil

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.

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A juggler shows his skills with lightning-fast agility. Photo: Martin Girard / shootstudio.ca © 2014 Cirque du Soleil

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.

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The "Russian Cradle." A strongman and a porcelain face doll awakened by an electrical discharge emerge from their musical box and jump to life. Photo: Martin Girard / shootstudio.ca © 2014 Cirque du Soleil

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.

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Contortion: Four deep-sea creatures that embody electric eels inside the Seeker’s cabinet come to life in this stunning, fast-paced and fluid contortion act. Photo: Martin Girard / shootstudio.ca © 2014 Cirque du Soleil

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.

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Mr Microcosmos is man as a microcosm, running on his own steam and traveling in his own self-contained, self-subsisting ecosystem. Mini Lili lives inside his overcoat. Through the door in his belly, you can catch a glimpse of the furnished interiors of the little lady’s abode, complete with armchair and other necessities of the Victorian home. Photo: Martin Girard / shootstudio.ca © 2014 Cirque du Soleil

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Nico the Accordion Man. The perfect handyman, Nico is a little shy, a tad awkward, and extremely sensitive. Photo: Martin Girard / shootstudio.ca © 2014 Cirque du Soleil

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.

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Aerial Straps. “Siamese twins” hanging in the air from straps are separated at last when they fly high above the stage in a series of acrobatic figures, sometimes as a pair, sometimes solo. Photo: Pierre Manning / shootstudio.ca © 2014 Cirque du Soleil

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Acro Net. Above a vast ocean, underwater creatures pirouette, bounce and rebound on a net that covers the entire stage. Photo: Martin Girard / shootstudio.ca © 2014 Cirque du Soleil

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.”

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Banquine. A group of 13 artists perform spectacular sequences of perfectly synchronized acrobatics and human pyramids that showcase the amazing agility of the human body. Photo: Martin Girard / shootstudio.ca © 2014 Cirque du Soleil

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Rola Bola. A fearless Aviator who happens to be an expert in the discipline of rola bola makes a soft, graceful landing in his small propeller plane, which he will use as a platform. Photo: Martin Girard / shootstudio.ca © 2014 Cirque du Soleil

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

External Links:

http://www.fujitv.co.jp/en/e_17_07.html (Event Outline & Ticket Pricing)

http://www.kurios.jp  (Official website, Japanese only)

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Photo: Martin Girard, Pierre Manning / shootstudio.ca C 2014 Cirque Du Soleil
© Japan Today

©2018 GPlusMedia Inc.

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