Cirque du Soleil’s “Kurios” a wondrous flight of imagination

SHARE Cirque du Soleil’s “Kurios” a wondrous flight of imagination
SHARE Cirque du Soleil’s “Kurios” a wondrous flight of imagination

Wondrous. Hypnotic. An unparalleled flight of the imagination, and a glorious exploration of the physical limits of the human body.

Cirque du Soleil’s “Kurios – Cabinet of Curiosities,” the 35th production in this mega-theater’s history, might very well be its most extraordinary, exquisitely wrought show to date. What makes it so special goes beyond its performers’ dazzling virtuosity and fearlessness, and the envelope-exploding conception of their routines. And it goes beyond the gorgeously hand-crafted visual beauty of every element that sweeps the stage, soars to the top of Cirque’s blue and yellow tent, or suggests the world beneath the sea.

There is, quite simply, an unadulterated magic about every minute of this “creative laboratory” devised by director-writer Michel Laprise and his wildly inspired creative team. This is physical theater of the highest order – superbly paced, with continual variations of scale and mood, and with an overall balletic flow that feels totally organic, even if the universe being celebrated is elaborately and whimsically mechanized.

The Aviator and his passenger take flight in Cirque du Soleil’s “Kurios – Cabinet of Wonders.” Photo: Martin Girard)

The Aviator and his passenger take flight in Cirque du Soleil’s “Kurios – Cabinet of Wonders.” Photo: Martin Girard)

‘KURIOS – CABINET OF CURIOSITIES’

Highly recommended

When: Through Sept. 20

Where: The Big Top beside

the United Center, 1901 W. Madison

Tickets: $35 – $145

Info: (773) 924-7783;

http://www.cirquedusoleil.com/kurios

Run time: 2 hours and 25 minutes

with one intermission

“Kurios” has been imagined in a lushly baroque steam punk style – with all the once newfangled wonders of electricity, light bulbs, gramophones and aircraft it suggests. And this is all marvelously conjured by the sets and props of Stephane Roy that fly, glide, and circle on an imperceptible track; the costumes (especially those fabulous accordion pants) by Philippe Guillotel, which have a life of their own; the lighting of Martin Labreque that sculpts each motion; and the makeup by Eleni Uranis that utterly transforms faces while revealing souls.

The musical direction and scoring of Raphael Beau and Bob & Bill is beyond seamless, as are the musicians and singers, whose sound feels almost genetically linked to the action. And the work of choreographers Yaman Okur, Ben Potvin, Sidi Larbi Cherkaui, Susan Gaudreau and Andrea Zigler never shouts “dance sequence,” but assures that the whole show moves seamlessly from one second to the next – from a steam engine that curves its way through the audience at the very start, to the winged machines (and human beings) that defy gravity.

The Russian Cradle act in Cirque du Soleil’s “Kurios – Cabinet of Wonders.” (Photo: Martin Girard)

The Russian Cradle act in Cirque du Soleil’s “Kurios – Cabinet of Wonders.” (Photo: Martin Girard)

Of course it is the performers, and their mind-boggling feats, that are of the essence. And each of the dozen or so acts here is eye-popping, transforming familiar skills (aerial acts, acrobatics, clowning) into something far more beguiling and ingenious than usual.

The Russian Cradle sequence is a masterful piece of timing and mutual trust in which strongman Roman Tereshchenko hurls his tiny blonde partner (and real life wife), Olena, into a series of high-flying somersaults. Their signals to each other create a unique code.

Female strength is beyond measure in Anne Weissbecker, who rides her aerial bicycle as if it were an extension of her body, and it combines with mind-boggling flexibility in a trio of contortionists (Imin Tsydendambaeva, Ayagma Tsybanova and Bayarma Zodboeva) whose limbs seem to multiply as you watch them.

The Upside Down World sequence is sheer brilliance, as what begins as a rollicking feast on the ground quickly becomes “mirrored” (for real), as it is simultaneously enacted by performers suspended upside-down from the very top of the tent. Also astounding is the Acro Net act, whose ensemble of daredevils, working on a newly engineered type of trampoline, launch themselves, untethered, to stratospheric heights, and often appear to just be sitting in the air.

The sensational group of 13 acrobats dubbed the Banquines start out on terra firma, but by sheer self-propulsion catapult themselves (also with no safety net) into four-person-tall towers, and countless other configurations, with a stunning sense of partnership. Add to this a soaring two-man straps act; a perilous Rola Bola routine; sleek Yo-Yo and juggling acts; “hand puppets” that give new meaning to the term; a hilariously nerdy seduction scene by actor-clown Facundo Gimenez; and the abiding presence of Karl L’Evuyer as Microcosmos, a gleefully mad scientist.

And then there is the tiny, impossibly delicate and expressive traveler, Mini Lili, who, for most of the first act, I was convinced was some sort of otherworldly marionette. As it turns out, she is the very real Antanina Satsura of Belarus – “a lilliputian” or “small person.” Talk about a cabinet of curiosities.

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