|"Contortions" from Cirque du Soleil's "Kurios"|
(photo: Martin Girard)
On a typical night for most of the year, Chicago's United Center is home turf for both the NBA Bulls and the NHL Blackhawks, but it's currently the location for Cirque du Soleil's “Kurios: Cabinet of Curiosities”, one of the latest and greatest offerings from this ubiquitous troupe. It's the company's thirtieth anniversary, and this production (first seen last season in Montreal), housed in its yellow and blue striped “Grand Chapiteau”, is a wonderful show. In this steampunk-styled outing, there's the story of an inventor, the Seeker (Anton Valen) who defies the laws of time, space and dimension, altering reality at will as the senses are distorted, perceptions challenged, and perspectives transformed, as he reinvents everything around him, the visible becomes invisible, and the world is (often literally) turned upside-down. We wonder if things are real or a figment of our imaginations, in a world both beautiful and mysterious; as the company itself puts it, it's where anything is possible, through the power of imagination (theirs and ours, as it turns out).
The story, although not heavy on narrative, begins with the “Chaos Synchro 1900” enactment of various train travelers representing the freedom and charm of the characters in the cabinet of curiosities, suggesting La Belle Epoque of the Paris World's Fair. This is followed by the Russian Cradle Duo, music box figurines suddenly brought to life as human trapezes. Then there's a great juggler (Gabriel Beaudoin), and a very non-traditional Aerial Bicycle act (Anne Weissbecker). Next up is the “invisible circus” which is literally just that, in miniature, led by a rather odd ringmaster (David-Alexandre Deprés. Then there's the four deep sea creatures (electric eels) performing on an underwater mechanical hand. Next is the upside-down world of a dinner party and chandelier in parallel worlds with chair-balancing challenges (Andrii Bondarenko). Then appears an aviator expert at balancing of another type, on the “rola bola”(James Eulises Gonzalez Correa), followed by an underwater acro-net with trampoline, a synchronized duo (Roman and Vitali Tomanov) on aerial straps, and a yo-yo artist (the single-named Frank) twirling pocket watches. There's the amazing “Theater of Hands”, storytelling by fingers projected onto a vintage hot air balloon (Nicolas Baixas), and “Banquine”, wherein thirteen artists create multi-level human pyramids. As is often the case with the company, there are some unusual characters, like Microcosmos, the half-steam engine (Karl L'Ecuyer) with the diminutive Mini Lili (Antanina Satsura) inside, and the Accordion Man (Baixas again). And, as usual, there's a comic act involving a man's pursuit of a woman with interruption from a cat, a parrot, and even a Tyrannosaurus. In all, there are some four dozen performers.
This production is extraordinarily well-directed (and written) by Michael Laprise, with Director of Creation Chantal Tremblay. As usual for the company, the technical contributions are all spectacular, from the Set and Properties Design by Stephan Roy (with a creative found-object feel) to the whimsical Costume Design by Philippe Guillotel, to the great choreography by Yaman Okur, Sidi Cherkaoui and Susan Gaudreau, to the equally fantastic Acrobatic choreography by Ben potvin and Andrea Zieger, to the Sound Design by Jacques Boucher and Jean-Michael Caron, the Lighting Design by Mrtin Labrecque and Makeup Design by Eleni Uranis. Especially winning is the musical composition and Direction by "Bob and Bill" (Guy Dubuc and Marc Lessard) and Raphael Beau, transforming 1930's swing and jazz, (with an assist from Greek singer Eirini Tornesaki), a welcome change from their New Age scores.
The show's tagline is true: reality is relative. Seeing is disbelieving!