By Donna Herman
Call it a circus, call it a spectacle, call it a cabinet of curiosities, heck, call it dinner because you can fill yourself up on the snacks and drinks offered at the concessions, just go. See Cirque du Soleil’s “Kurios: Cabinet of Curiosities” if you want to feel your mouth hanging open, your eyes open wide, your heart pounding in your chest, that little frisson of fear in your heart, and that sense of wonder and awe you maybe haven’t felt since you were a kid. “How’d they do that?”
Although it’s under a big top, it’s not a traditional circus. No scary clowns, no miserable animals. Well, it’s Cirque du Soleil, right? But it’s not a typical Cirque show either, if that’s an adjective that can be applied to them. It’s certainly not like their latest Broadway offering “Paramour” which attempts to be, well, a Broadway show. And while there are acrobatics, aerialists, and people who do things with their bodies that you didn’t think bodies were meant to do (I’m looking at you Contortion Eels), the dazzlingly realized design concept unifies the production into a finished whole
Written and directed by Michel Laprise, “Kurios” is Cirque’s 35th production. It’s subtitle “Cabinet of Curiosities” was a Renaissance term for a collection of objects, usually scientific, that was a precursor to a museum. Laprise has set “Kurios” in a Victorian era, Jules Verne, steampunk inspired, alternate future past where we are led by a fellow who looks like a mad scientist in a retro white lab coat and bushy white Albert Einstein hair. He has an old fashioned suitcase he carries around his laboratory where retro-futuristic robots who look a little like mechanical anteaters with skirts, scurry about doing busy work. There are table-like machines with Victrola heads on wheels that roll around the lab and a gentleman with a huge extended belly that looks like a giant early scuba diving helmet made of brass. Out of the front of this belly pops Mini Lilli, portrayed by the artist Amanina Satsura who is 3.2 feet tall, weighs 50 pounds and is one of the 10 smallest people in the world. When the scientist takes his giant seat and opens the Cabinet…well, hold on to your hats boys and girls.
The real shock and awe begins with the 2nd act, the Russian Cradle Duo which was one of my favorite of the evening. Looking like the strongman of circuses past and a china doll, husband and wife Roman and Olena Tereshchenko climb 13 feet into the air to perform an aerial act where Roman is the swing. Yes, you read that right. Olena, with a trust in her mate not experienced by many women I know (ok, any) launches herself off his shoulders 13 feet in the air and tucks and rolls and sticks out her hands and trusts him to catch them. No net. No kidding. Over and over again in more and more complicated leaps she flings herself into the air and he, the human swing, catches her, swings her back and forth and releases her into the air to do it all over again.
The thrills and chills keep on coming. One more spectacular than the next. Most of the performers, by the way, are risking life and limb in some fashion. The aerial bicyclist who “rides” a bicycle suspended in mid-air and climbs all over it and hangs off of it from one leg or arm at a time at impossible angles, defying gravity and death in equal measure. The four contortionists who come out piled on a giant mechanical hand, whom I mistook for a rock at first they were so intertwined, really do seem like they are going to break apart at any second as they bend their frames into impossible shapes. They stood on their hands and bent their legs backwards until they were practically folded in half with their toes over their heads. Ouch. Or when the acrobat at the dining table with his friends got up, balanced about 8 chairs on the table, climbed up them and then stood on one hand on the top chair and raised his legs to the ceiling. Which drew your eye upwards and you noticed an upside down duplicate of the scene being played out on the ceiling. Friends sitting around a table upside down on the top of the tent, with one man building a tower of chairs, climbing down it (with none of his clothes falling over his head to betray that he was upside down) and hanging from one hand in a mirror image of his fellow on the floor. Yikes. “How’d they do that?”
Kudos absolutely has to be given to the design team on this one. Sets, costumes, props, make-up, sound, music, choreography, and overall vision combined and coalesced to bring forth a sum that is greater than its parts. My only nit to pick is the location. There is no way to get to Randall’s Island through public transportation without going through East Harlem and taking the M35 bus. That means if you live in Queens, Brooklyn, or lower Manhattan and don’t have a car, you’re in for a mighty long trek.
Cirque du Solleil’s “Kurios: Cabinet of Curiosities” Written and Directed by James Laprise
WITH: Nikolay Astashkin (Banquine); Anne-Ryan Astley (Cheeta, Invisible Teeterboard, Curiosistan); Nico Baixas (Accordian Man Character/Hands Puppetry); Serchmaa Bayarsaikhan (Eel, Contortion); Gabriel Beaudoin (Vacuum Salesman, Juggling); Patrick Kelly (Cheminot Louis, Guitars); Andrii Bondarenko (Traveler, Hand Balancing); Stephane Bouglione (Giuseppe, Invisible Reckless, Curiosistan); Christopher “Kit” Chatham (Cheminot Lil Olatunji-Lee, Drums); Victor Degtyarev (Traveller, Acro Net); Nathan Dennis (Traveller, Acro Net); Facundo Gimenez (Comic Act); Ekaterina Evdokimova (Traveller, Banquine); Jean-Philippe Fratellini (Tutti, Invisible Trapeze, Curiosistan); James Eulises Gonzalez (Aviator, Rola Bola); Marthe-Sylvan Guy Gruss (Rita, Invisible Teeterboard, Curiosistan); Jack Helme (Traveller, Acro Net); Mathieu Hubener (Traveller, Acro Net); Chih Min-Tuan (Master of Time.Yo-Yos); Lidia Kaminska (Franceska, Accordian, Keyboard); Roman Kenzhayev (Traveller, Banquine); Victor Knie (Yorick, Invisible Unicycle Funambulist, Curiosistan); Elena Kolesnikova (Traveller, Banquine_; Sergey Kudryavtsey (Banquine); Paul Lazar (Cheminot Maurice, Violins); Karl L’Ecuyer (Microcosmos Character, Acro Net); Germain Leotard (Frutti, Invisible Trapeze); Michael Levin (Cheminot George, Cello, Keyboards, Guitar); Anton Lyapunov (Traveller, Banquine); Christa Mercey (Bella Donna, Percussion); Ryan Shinji Murray (Traveller, Acro Net); Andrey Nikitin (Traveller Mentalist, Banquine); Serguei Okhai (Banquine); Dimitri Parmenov (Banquine); Ekaterina Pirogovskaya (Kiara Character); Mark Soher (Chief Cheminot Auguste, Bass, Double Bass); Alexey Starodubtsev (Banquine); Igor Strizhanov (Banquine); Olena Tereshchenko (Russian Cradle); Roman Tereshchenko (Russian Cradle); Roman Tomanov (Jean-Claude, Straps Act); Vitali Tomanov (Jean-Claude, Straps Act); Eirini Tornesaki (Street Singer); Ayagma Tsybenova (Eel, Contortion); Imin Tsydendambaeva (Eel, Contortion); Eligiusz Skoczylas (Seeker Character); Anne Weissbecker (Traveller, Acro Net); Alexandr Yudintsev (Traveller, Acro Net); Bayarma Zodboeva (Eel, Contortion)
Artistic Director, Bruno Darmagnac; Senior Director, Show Quality, Luc Tremblay; Director of Creation, Chantal Tremblay; Set and Props Designer, Stephane Roy; Costume Designer, Philippe Guillotel; Composer and Musical Director, Raphael Beau; Composers & Musical Directors, Bob & Bill; Acrobatic Choreographers, Yaman Okur, Ben Potvin, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, Susan Gaudreau, Andrea Ziegler; Sound Designers Jean-Michel Caron, Jacques Boucher; Lighting Designer, Martin Labrecque; Acrobatic Performance Designers, Rob Bollinger, Germain Guillemot, Boris Verkhovsky; Acrobatic Equipment and Rigging Designer, Danny Zen; Make-Up Designer Eleni Uranis. Through 11/27/16 at Randall’s Island Park. Tickets www.cirquedusoleil.com/kurious or 877-924-7783.