Once upon a time, the phrase "the circus is in town" would cause a wave of excitement to permeate a community. Children and adults were drawn into a big top in anticipation of the spectacle and bedazzlement that awaited them. Though traditional circuses have had a tough time staying afloat in the wake of television, movies, and numerous other sources of entertainment, Cirque du Soleil has been breathing fresh life into the institution of the circus since 1984. Those who have seen any of their previous traveling shows or permanent installments (principally located in Las Vegas), can attest that their unique hybrid of circus conventions and distinct production style still elicit a distinct sense of circus wonderment.
KURIOS -- Cabinet of Curiosities, Cirque du Soleil's 35th production, has been striking a unique chord with civilians and members of the media since it premiered in Montréal in April 2014. Not only does KURIOS fulfill the expectations of veteran Cirque audiences -- as well as living up to the routinely high expectations of newbies who have been primed with the performance group's well-merited hype -- but the show's theme and storyline provide the colorful assortment of characters, acts, and production design elements with the best vehicle this reviewer has yet seen in a Cirque show.
While not containing a storyline in the strictest of senses, KURIOS, like other Cirque shows, has more of a premise. Basically, the idea is that at some point in the 19th century, an inventor falls asleep for a minute. Prior to the start of the show, an onstage clock ticks up to the time of 11:11. Once at that time, the performance begins, and the inventor character, The Seeker, falls asleep in his chair. The clock stays at 11:11 until the end of the show when The Seeker awakens and it registers 11:12. The fantastical characters and acts that comprise the show are all aspects of his imagination.
There are several reasons why this setup works so well as a framework for this Cirque show. First, this show has a steampunk aesthetic; thus, its being a dream world from the 19th century is the perfect rationale for the futuristic, steam-powered Victorian setting. Next, as always, Cirque acts are performed to live high-energy and emotional soundtracks; and as steampunk culture has been flourishing as a subculture, it has to some extent assumed nouveau swing music as its soundtrack [The Edwardian Ball deserves recognition for aiding in the development of the steampunk movement and for the role of its house orchestra, Rosin Coven, in the development of the Chamber Cabaret sound]. Thus, the musical style of this show retains the flexibility of an orchestral accompaniment with a minimalist arrangement and with the fitting pizzazz of swing revival. Finally, while the acts, themselves, are designed so that they may be performed within the big top, many of them have a back-to-basics feel about them (including contortionists, some of the acrobats, and a yo-yo act); this not only works within the neo-Victorian theme, but it brings the concept of the original 19th century travelling circus full circle. That is, many of these acts may have been just at home nearly 200 years ago, when the circus first came to town.
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While different audience members will surely enjoy varying aspects of the show, there is something for everybody here. Some of the acts are fairly simple -- and will likely appeal to children more than adults -- yet, even in their relative simplicity, most every aspect of the show will impress children and adults alike with their imaginative executions. There are few moments in which the stage does not look like a living painting with variously lit characters and amazing set pieces to feast the eyes upon. As for the audience on opening night, they stood right up for their ovation and had the show's cast come out for two curtain calls after their initial bows.
KURIOS -- Cabinet of Curiosities will remain at the OC Fairgrounds until November 29, when it will relocate to Dodger Stadium until February.