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Cirque du Soleil’s ‘Kurios’ dazzles in San Francisco

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Steampunk-inspired set design in “Kurios – Cabinet of Curiosities.” Photo by Martin Girard, courtesy of Cirque du Soleil.

It’s mind-blowing while subtle, overwhelming but specific. Cirque du Soleil’s “Kurios – Cabinet of Curiosities” is a dazzling mix of many varied acts. An elaborate steam-punk design combined with inventive new stretches of the human body and imagination makes “Kurios” a thrilling night of entertainment. While it doesn’t tell a specific story, the thrilling acrobatics and attention to detail in the quirky set combine to transport us together to another world, something arguably more valuable.

The spectacle is based upon a story that really doesn’t matter. What does matter is the wondrous atmosphere created from the moment the show begins – anything here is possible. The Seeker’s invention, his Cabinet of Curiosities, is the plot device to bring all these crazy characters into one world. From the moment they enter in an overwhelming opening number in which each one of the forty members of the cast is performing at 100 percent, we’re hooked. We don’t know where to look, but we don’t need a story to be awed by the incredible talent and passion of each performer.

Erupting with life, it’s hard to tell which act is best. Certainly each audience member may have her favorite – is it the two muscular twins (Roman Tomanov & Vitali Tomanov) dancing in beautiful midair synchronicity in their aerial straps? Maybe it’s David-Alexandre Despres’s comedic relief, as he attempts to seduce an audience member on a date where he suddenly transforms into a completely believable cat (he purrs, cleans himself, and even hacks up an invisible hairball). The audience was wowed by four amazing women, costumed to resemble sea creatures, who contort their bodies into remarkable positions. At the opening of act two, a large net is spread wide over the stage. Six aquatically dressed men perform impressive tricks and turns and flips, using the net to propel themselves up to dizzying heights at the very top of the Big Top.

Andrii Bondarenko in "Kurios."
Andrii Bondarenko in “Kurios.” Photo by Martin Girard, courtesy of Cirque du Soleil.

The upside-down dinner party may have been one of the most hysterically witty tricks of the show. As a lamp floats away, the amazing Andrii Bendarenko stacks chairs and ladders on his banquet table as he tries in vain to reach it. He soon realizes, in a moment that got the entire audience laughing uncontrollably, that the exact same thing is happening on the ceiling. There is a parallel family in a parallel universe that will balance just as impressively to do all it takes to get this lamp.

The design elements of the production are fantastically integrated, allowing us to truly enter into this universe. The musicians set a perfect tone for the evening, delightful and airy when they need to be, and full of suspense as an exciting act rises to its climax. From a giant mechanical hand to a hot air balloon to any entire invisible mini-circus, set and props designer Stéphane Roy has pulled out all the stops. The costumes are a wonder for our eyes to feast upon, delighting everyone from the youngest child to the oldest man in the audience.

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Gabriel Beaudoin in “Kurios.” Photo by Martin Girard, courtesy of Cirque du Soleil.

It’s clear that all the performers are having the time of their life onstage, and we want to be there with them every step of the way. Perhaps this is Kurios’ story – a journey that links us to the performers and to all the audience members who are experiencing the show with us. It’s truly the energy and presence of each performer that brings their unimaginable acts to the next level. We want to befriend the charismatic juggler (Gabriel Beaudoin), soar into the air and know someone will be there to catch us, and have two finger puppets fall in love while climbing on our heads (this actually happened to a member of the audience, projected on a hot air balloon for us all to witness). And for those two hours, together in the Big Top, “Kurios” gives us the freedom to do just that.

Contact Noemi Berkowitz at noemi11 “at” stanford.edu.

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Noemi Berkowitz is the Chief Theater Critic and a desk editor at The Stanford Daily. She is a junior from Lincoln, Nebraska, double majoring in theater and psychology. You may see her reciting Shakespeare, wearing tie-dye and hiking. Contact her at noemi11 'at' stanford.edu.