Day 104: The Man and the Cabinet of Curiosities; ‘Urgent’

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The audience is closer to the stage than in any other Cirque show in history, with the stage being only two feet high.

If you are in the New York area any time between now and Nov 27th, you urgently need to go see Cirque du Soleil’s big top touring show, Kurios: Cabinet of Curiosities! If you miss out on it here follow them to Miami, FL; Dallas, TX; or Houston, TX where they will continue their tour because this is by far, hands down, one of the most incredible, exciting, gorgeous, and exhilarating Cirque performances I have ever seen.

Kurios features one of the 10 smallest people in the world. Antanina Satsura, who plays Mini Lili, is 3.2 feet tall.

Though my review and post comes to you late, I can assure you it is not for lack of sharing. I have made every possible effort to spread the love for Kurios whenever and wherever I can, with friends and family alike, and I absolutely had to make sure you all knew about it too. I saw Kurios on Friday at Randall’s Island Park in New York, the same place where I saw Ovo, another of their big top shows, back in 2010. The setting is gorgeous, a little island park getaway right outside of Manhattan. The Grand Chapiteau, with its brightly colored spiral tent, is, much like the show, a magical and fantastic setting seemingly out of place and straight out of one’s imagination running alongside the concrete jungle of FDR Drive.

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It takes six days to set up Kurios and two days to bring it down to get on the road.

I’ll be honest with you, I knew little to nothing of this show coming in. I was with my friend and her family, who are much more informed and follow Cirque’s productions a bit closer than I do. It was they who told me about Kurios and I was with them when I saw Toruk which I reviewed earlier [here]. I had this preview video to go by and my friend’s assurances that, after researching the show and following some of the performers on social media, Kurios promised to be one of the best productions in a while, harkening back to such phenomenal performances as Alegria (which in my opinion had some of the best music and clown acts) and Ka (which remains my favorite of all-time with its set and martial arts elements). I knew that the acts would be of a certainly high caliber, and my friend’s brother was particular excited to let us know about the acro-net, a very different performance than their trampoline tracks.

Kurios includes 426 individual props, the most of any show in Cirque’s history.

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From the very moment you enter inside the Grand Chapiteau you realize that this is way more than just talk and hype. For such a limited space Kurios makes use of every bit of valuable real estate. The set is gorgeous and members of the audience had an opportunity to get even closer to the action by walking on a suspended walkway that went over and through the stage. The steampunk element is gorgeously done with these fantastic set pieces that inspire the imagination and immerse you in the world of fantastic possibility. Truly I have to commend the designers of Kurios on the incredibly elaborate set pieces, the whimsical costumes, and the stage design. There was simply not enough time just to dedicate to taking in every little element and appreciating the worksmanship and contribution it gave to that feeling of being inside the mind of an inventor and all of his gadgets and machines.

An 8-person live band performs right on stage during the performances. You can often find the singer at the top of the tunnel and the musicians in various spots during the show.

Of course I must speak of the music, which incidentally I am listening to right now to help put me back at that performance on Friday. The 8 person band that plays for Kurios consists of vocalist Eirini Tornesaki, a drummer, percussionist, guitarist, violinist, cellist, accordion player, and band leader. The music is fantastic, especially if like me you are into jazz and/or swing. Almost reminds me of Caravan Palace, which is a French electro swing group. Live music always has a bit more life and energy to it and the pieces all reflect the mood of the acts and help to transition one to another. It is through music that we really get the most communication between the show and ourselves and the message is always delivered clearly, effectively, and engagingly. I could listen to the soundtrack, which is available by the way, all the time during my free time and feel the energy of the performance again and again in my blood.

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Kurios features 46 performers from 14 different countries, all of which are represented by flags displayed outside the Grand Chapiteau.

These acts are incredible, I’m telling you. Absolutely breathtaking. Each act ramps up the excitement and is just even more unbelievable than the last. We’ve seen certain elements of these acts before. Cirque shows commonly feature aerial straps like the ‘Siamese twins’ of Kurios. We’ve seen contortion acts, but perhaps none as flexible with as limited space as the four artists who use the base of a giant mechanical hand to twist and balance and support on top of each other. The clowns are of course always a wonderful feature in any Cirque production and in this more than most I’ve seen recently they are indeed wonderfully entertaining and essentially and critically humorous. The two clown acts, the ‘Invisible Circus’ and when a clown takes a member of the audience on a date at his ‘place’, were unforgettably funny. I was quite literally doubled over in laughter when the clown’s ‘cat’ plays with the audience member. But there are three acts in particular I would like to focus on.

Upside Down World.jpgUpside Down World – Not to be confused with the nightmarish setting of one of my favorite new series Stranger Things, the Upside Down World in Kurios is perhaps the most breathtaking and awe-inspiring act of the entire production in my opinion. A dinner party turns into a fantastical acrobatic balancing act when one of the guests is tasked with reaching a seemingly out of reach chandelier. Meanwhile, completely mirroring their acts, another dinner party takes place above the audience’s guests upside down as the upside guest races to reach the same chandelier. A beautiful ballet of balance and wiring. The very inspiration and spot on execution of such an elaborate piece deserves special commendation.

Acro Net – Past Cirque Acro net.jpgperformances have used  trampolines and trampoline tracks before to show incredible feats of flips and jumps but the acro net in Kurios is of a completely different caliber. Whereas traditionally trampoline track acrobats would use their own weight and the tension of springs to catapult themselves into the air, the performers in Kurios’s acro net act use the combined weight of almost ten separate acrobats synchronizing their jumps to send one poor unfortunate soul flying so high up you fear they’ll pierce the roof of the Chapiteau itself. How they manipulate the air with such ease and confidence is not only exciting it’s also terrifying. I didn’t know whether to cheer or to scream but I knew I was absolutely enjoying every minute of what I was watching.

Hand Puppet.jpgHand Puppetry – I remember as I was watching the performances I would sometimes be distracted by the shadows cast on the tent’s walls. See one of the interesting aspects of a big top setting is how close you are to everything and how intimate each act becomes. You are never so close to the performers as when you are all under this giant tent. As the spotlight followed the performers it would cast these larger than life shadows on the wall and sometimes I was just mesmerized by watching the shadows dance on the wall. I wondered if this was perhaps intentional or just a happy by-product of our setting. Then I saw the hand puppetry act and I knew that someone somewhere definitely realized the artistic and aesthetic value of playing with light and shadow in this setting. There were no big dangerous or exciting aspects to the hand puppetry. No one was flying ten feet in the air or displaying any particular level of physical strength or baffling flexibility. But still, there was magic in this act. In the delicate way the music framed the scene, the focus and elegance of each puppeteer’s movements, and in the way they played with and manipulated the camera and distance and space, this act, perhaps most of all, spoke to me on a deeply personal level. It’s such a risk to take all this amped up energy and adrenaline and excitement and suddenly punctuate it with this intimate and surreal theatre piece. But Kurios did not disappoint and did not take this risk needlessly. Such grace and skill and deftness, to portray so much emotion and life through just the hands. There is not a single moment during the entire show that you are not surrounded by beauty.

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Kurios is Cirque du Soleil’s 35th production.

In the Seeker’s attempts to create a machine to manipulate time and space, in the steampunk retro elements of the set, in that 20s era jazz and swing music, and in the variety and caliber and dedication of each act, Kurios is definitely sending a very strong message not only of the history of Cirque du Soleil but also of its promising future. I’m not going to lie I definitely love certain Cirque shows more than others and there are a few I could live without. But I could never live in a world without Cirque at all. Productions like Ka, Alegria, Kurios, these speak to me on so many levels. There is a sense of community and possibility when you see how artists and performers from all over the world come together to make these incredible productions that highlight the best of what we have to offer. In focusing on going back to Cirque’s roots Kurios achieves a level of production that will stand triumphantly on top for a very long time looking forward. I cannot sing its praises with enough enthusiasm or eloquence. I just sit wide-eyed and marvel at what the show has accomplished. And when it is done and the performers come out on stage to take their bows, you can be assured I will be one of the very first, urgently rushing to get up, to give them a standing ovation.

Day 104

Man: 84 Loneliness: 20

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