Kurios: Cabinet of Curiosities
Cirque du Soleil
ATLANTA, GA – April 30, 2016
For the first time in my whole life I got to finally see a Cirque du Soleil show. My brother bought us tickets as a gift for my 22nd birthday and he couldn’t have chosen a better gift. I’ve been highly anticipating this show since my birthday in March! I’m actually amazed he thought of it really. I mean, I love Cirque du Soleil but I’m also a Theatre major and so my brother and I operate on slightly different planes (he’s not into musicals, theatre, overly arty stuff, etc.). Actually he did admit to me that he had no idea what to expect because Cirque du Soleil just isn’t his scene. But he bought us tickets and took me to see them anyway.
I’m really glad I got to go with my brother, and him knowing nothing about it made it even better. It was mind-blowingly fantastic for me, but for my brother, well, his world was shattered, in a good way.
We drove downtown and the moment I saw the tips of the blue and yellow striped circus tents I began to brim with excitement and anticipation. By some miracle of God we managed to get a really good parking space in the rapidly filling parking deck. Then we opened our umbrellas and stepped out into the thunder and soft rain to follow the line of spectators making their way into the circus grounds.
Massive 18-wheelers (tractor trailers) stamped with Cirque du Soleil’s blue logo of the sun loomed over us as we wound our way through their lot. As we got closer to the first tent we could smell the circus treats. Popcorn, freshly spun cotton candy, chocolate, soft pretzels, soda, and there was even a bar for those old enough to prefer something a bit more alcoholic. The lounge tent was huge, or at least it felt huge. You could see the massive steel poles that stood tall and proud holding up the slick canvas covering that created those tall peaks we saw from the road. Lights were strung from the tops of these poles and along the curved ceiling to illuminate the dim tent and it only added to the thick atmosphere tingling with energy.
There was a green screen photo booth where you could have your picture taken and edited so you looked like a character or part of the show. The old-fashion styled counters revealed the sources of the delicious smells making my mouth water with desire. But I stood agape at the merchandise booth, my eyes wide with all the possibilities…and at the expensive prices. In the end I decided that I have no guarantee that I’ll ever get to see this show again so I could spend more than I would normally, but I could not go positively crazy. I chose a t-shirt with the Kurios logo on it, and a pair of replica steampunk goggles that I simply had to have (and also required me to hush my mother’s voice in my head talking about impracticality). The smile wouldn’t leave my face. I’m truly lucky to have a brother who willingly puts up with my youthful excitement (I won’t use the word “childish” because why should only children get excited?).
Having seen all there was to see in the lounge tent we wove our way in search for the show tent a.k.a. the big top. The rain had momentarily let up and we easily found the correct entrance: Door 6. We climbed up the steps and found our seats in the very back row. My brother had been worried that our seats wouldn’t be very good since he couldn’t pay for the really expensive ones (not that I cared at all because any seat was perfect if it meant getting to see Cirque perform) but it turns out that as massive (and I mean massive) as the show tent was somehow the seating made it feel smaller. We had a very good vantage point for the show. Cirque du Soleil has been doing this for quite a long time so obviously they’ve got their sightlines down pat. With our purchases made (he just bought water, how boring) and our seats claimed we settled in and allowed our eyes to drink in the stage just as the thunder clapped and the rain came down in torrents outside.
A bright round stage claimed the ground in the center of the tent and behind it/to our right stood the wing
s: a single large opening with a gear-shaped proscenium and a black curtain to hide its secrets. Gramophones, a bicycle, and an assortment of interesting contraptions dotted the stage. Being a theatre major who has worked both on and back stage I found my mind searching for the workings of this performance area. I watched in awe as a crew member climbed the tall scaffolding up to what I believe might have been their nucleus – the center for the sound, lighting, and other cues as well as where performers would climb up to just to fall back down to the earth with timed grace. My eyes smiled as a crew member used a clever pulley system to bring a bag of objects up to him rather than having to try and carry it while climbing such a great height. I bet it would be fascinating to work crew for a Cirque show.
At last with the 8pm hour drawing near a character appeared on stage followed by another and another until they were bustling about playing with the props we had been curiously peeking at. Almost like a pre-show they simply went about their business in character. While audience members are still arriving and finding their seats, those that are already situated find themselves casually entertained by these curious people, creatures, and machines whom are simultaneously whetting our appetite, giving restless eyes something to follow, and lightly pantomiming the show’s premise.
This steampunk styled show – Kurios: Cabinet of Curiosities – sparkles our wonder with the tagline “Reality is Relative.”
“A mysterious and fascinating realm that disorients your senses and challenges your perceptions.
In an alternate yet familiar past, in a place where wonders abound for those who trust their imagination, a Seeker discovers that in order to glimpse the marvels that lie just below the surface, we must first learn to close our eyes.
In his larger-than-life curio cabinet, the Seeker is convinced that there exists a hidden, invisible world – a place where the craziest ideas and the grandest dreams lie waiting. A collection of otherworldly characters suddenly steps into his makeshift mechanical world. When the outlandish, benevolent characters turn his world upside down with a touch of poetry and humor in an attempt to ignite the Seeker’s imagination, his curios jump to life one by one before his very eyes.
What if by engaging our imagination and opening our minds we could unlock the door to a world of wonders?” – Cirque du Soleil
The show practically flew by! We watched an incredible cradle duo where a strongman swung a lithe acrobat through the air and we watched as she did flips and twists but always managing to clasp arms with the man just in time to be swung back and avoid falling. The aerial bicycle act was utterly impressive as the high spirited acrobat descended from the tent’s top riding a bicycle and then proceeded to whiz through the air performing all sorts of acrobatic tricks. A clown directed an invisible circus, which wowed us with its trickery. Boggling contortionists bent their small bodies in impossible ways! A yo-yo master performed spectacular tricks. A duo on the aerial straps completely knocked me down with their grace and immense strength and skill.
While I fell in love and utter amazement with each and every act, a few of my favorites were: the acro net, where these performers take trampoline tricks to an entirely different realm and I held my breath as they shot up 80 feet into the air only to flip and free fall right back down; The rola bola act, a display of insane and should-be-impossible balance! I held my breath for every new feat he tried and accomplished! Attempting such a feat on the ground is challenging enough but to stack up rolling objects and then swing through the air all while managing to balance and not fall?? I may never understand that magic; The chair-balancing act, which I watched curious, impressed, and then blown flat on my back astounded. The hand theatre act, in which the artist uses only his hands with a few simple props to tell a complete story (he did a finger split and even my piano hands cringed). This act was truly incredible both artistically and technically. At first my brother didn’t even realize it was being done live. Obviously just using his hands only the front rows would be able to see his performance but clever as always they had a magical camera that filmed and projected it in real time upon the orb of a hot air balloon that hovered in the center for all to see.
The clown’s comic act was hilarious as he chose a random lady from the audience, invited her onto the stage and into his pantomimed house, and then proceeded to shift into different characters. His T-Rex walk was eerily and impressively on point! He was so in sync with his body and incredibly gifted at his craft. It was fantastic!
Then finally the “Banquine” act where 13 artists performed a series of insane acrobatic acts and put every cheerleader in existence to shame and even a few Olympic gymnasts no doubt. Not only were they skilled but their feats were incredible! Doing a back flip and then landing square on the shoulders of another to top a standing four-person high pillar? How is that even possible?
Every act had me thrilled to pieces and struggling to breathe. I hardly ever sat back in my chair but was constantly pulled forward by their energy and my eyes stayed wide and round mesmerized by their feats not wanting to miss a second of it.
Seeing as this show is practically theatre in the round but with the added complication of requiring different performance structures (the acro net, the cradle base, the invisible circus set-up, etc.) the transitions between each act were longer than a theatre show but just as seamless. To distract us between transitions while crew dressed in black rolled in/out the next act the clown and other characters would flit around the stage drawing our eyes away from the set changes and keeping our attention and energy focused on them. It helped sustain the magic of the show. Very clever idea.
Also a smart idea was how these same characters would often be present on stage during the assorted acts. They reacted and moved in awe of the present performance giving the audience a lead on how they should also be reacting but also to fill in the gaps between the performer’s feats. They would move around watching the performer ready themselves for their next trick and then would grow very still so as not to distract from the actual execution of said trick. These vital characters kept the stage lively never letting the energy die down nor letting the audience pry its eyes away from the stage. Skilled professionals they mastered the art of manipulating attention, perspective, and energy.
The music for Kurios was amazing! If you like electro-swing then you’d definitely applaud this soundtrack as well. Completely fitting with the steampunk vibe each song was bursting with energy and performed live. The music being live is key, in my opinion. Would the show have been amazing even if they just played the recorded version? Yes, of course! But somehow that added element of live music just pushes the show over the edge plunging it into a completely immersive experience.
I wish my parents had given in to my artistic side when I was a kid, although to be fair as a kid I wasn’t sure exactly what I was yet. But as it is I’m probably too late to join the circus. Even so I would work for Cirque du Soleil in any capacity! Makeup assistant? Musician? Actor? Merchandise seller? Anything!
When I was very young I went to the circus (the typical kind with red-nosed clowns, dancing elephants, and dirt paths between games and events) and it terrified me. A clown came up hoping to make cute little me smile but I ended up crying and running away (I can’t tell you how bad I still feel about that even if I remain less than fond of clowns), and then when we entered the big top for the main show the music was too loud, the air was claustrophobic, I felt frightened and I ended up crying until my poor parents removed me and bought me a snow-cone to calm me down. My opinion of the circus was less than favorable.
But I grew a bit older and then suddenly had a completely random (and probably romanticized) spark inside of me to join the circus. I at least wanted to visit one again, but I never did. A couple years later and I discovered Cirque du Soleil. A couple years after that I saw their movie Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away and that was it. I was officially a Cirque fan for life. I must have watched that movie a dozen times! So now, in 2016 when I conveniently live in Atlanta, GA, Cirque du Soleil’s show Kurios decides to tour and stop in the city and my amazing big brother buys us tickets. I have now officially seen my very first Cirque du Soleil show and I pray it won’t be my last. I have no real idea what I’m going to be doing with my life but I hope it at least includes another Cirque show.
If you’ve never heard of Cirque du Soleil then I urge you to look them up online and check them out. They’re truly fantastic. If you’ve never seen a Cirque du Soleil show then I implore you to go see one (at the very least watch the movie, but even so it will not really be the same).
When my brother and I exited the tent after the show had concluded we passed a sign announcing “You are now re-entering reality” and we both looked at each other with a slight frown. We didn’t want to leave. The city’s bright lights glowed in the distance on the other side of that sign and while we knew we had to return to it we didn’t quite want to, not yet. Our feet begrudgingly moved us forward past the sign, out of the grounds, and down the sidewalk to the parking deck where our car sat waiting. My brother looked at me and said, “That was phenomenal. I had no idea.” I shimmered and practically glowed with glee. Not only did I just have the greatest night ever but my brother did as well. Something about witnessing a person’s first experience with such magic is truly satisfying.
Eventually our traitorous feet stood us beside the car and the cool leather seats embraced our exhausted bodies that somehow still tingled with the magic and energy of the show but stretched ever more thin the further we drove from those blue and yellow striped tents. I didn’t want to go to sleep. I didn’t want the night to be over. Not yet. Not ever.
I lay my head down on my pillow and smiled allowing my sleepy mind to sink back into the memories of Kurios and re-immerse itself into that alternate reality. Someday I’ll see them again, even if only in my constant day dreams.
Reality is Relative
P.S. Because the main purpose of this blog pertains to books here is a book recommendation for those of you whom have a fondness for the circus: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
Some pictures from the night!