Cirque Ex Machina

Inside Cirque Du Soleil’s trademark blue-and-yellow big top, a stream of dusty golden light fills the tent, like so many metallic birds flitting above our heads. It seems the perfect setting for this Quebec-based nouveau cirque’s foray into the Victorian age, in a production engagingly titled KuriosCabinet of Curiosities. Written and directed by Michel Laprise, the show on Randall’s Island retrofits modernity with a captivating, old-age charm. The effect is transportive; the assorted delights of fishlike contortionists, aerialists and a hugely entertaining live band, prove just enough to take the audience on a trip well worth remembering. Despite its current global stature, the company’s performance history in New York been bumpy of late. Its two most recent projects were the lukewarmly received Toruk, at the Barclays Center, and Paramour, a kinetic Broadway musical that inspired derision in some circles. With Kurios, however, creator Michel Laprise has redeemed the reputation of his nouveau cirque and provided a magical spectacle.

Imin Tysdendambaeva, Bayarma Zodboeva, Ayagma Tysbenova, Serchmaa Bayarsaikhan as eel-like contortionists. Top: Nico the Accordion Man (Nico Baixas), Mr. Mircrcosmos (Karl L'Ecuyer) and Klara (Ekaterina Pirogovskaya) provide some comic relief. Photos: Martin Girard / shootstudio.ca Costumes: Philippe Guillotel © 2014 Cirque du Soleil

The show begins with a harum-scarum inventor, dressed in a white coat and nursing an electrically upright man-bun. He’s called the Seeker (a wondrously bumbling Eligiusz Scoczylas) and has a bevy of strange, fascinating characters following him around, including an accordion-costumed man (Nico Baixas) and a particularly fascinating Mini-Lili (Antanina Satsura, one of the world’s 10 smallest women). On a circular stage, mirrored by a circle of lights above the audience, our characters explore the power of human flight, of human imagination and its associated achievements of the Victorian Age.

Laprise has situated each set interestingly: he begins with a chaotic, drumming introduction to his curious world of mechanical marvels (Victrolas spin around the stage, and strange, beautiful contraptions creak and moan, Willy Wonka style—Stéphane Roy is set and props designer). Warbling, otherworldly music from a fantastic live band (Raphaël Beau is composer and musical director) punctuates this introduction with masterly emotion. Then Laprise starts us off with some light parlor entertainment: Gabriel Beaudoin’s juggling is a particular highlight. But it is in the following scenes that his “makeshift mechanical world” comes to life.

Without giving too much away, we are first treated to some flying performances from a Russian gymnastic duo (Roman and Olena Tereshchenko) and an aerial biker (Anne Weissbecker). A side-splitting comic (Facundo Gimenez) weaves in and out of these performances, providing some surprisingly non-distracting gags for the audience. His Invisible Circus is a special feat of coordinated, focused hilarity. All the while, music wafts deliciously past our ears, a perfect, eerie soundtrack to the mystery and engaging peculiarity of Laprise’s production. When a particularly accomplished Andrii Bondarenko (a hand-balancing artist) almost slips atop his tower of chairs, his apparent misstep is punctuated both by gasps and the live band’s cheeky drummer, whose badam-tshh signals that the slip was all a part of Bondarenko’s routine.

More examples of our Seeker’s mechanical world of flighty misfits present themselves: electric-eel contortionists and heart-stopping balancing acts from a sky-blue-garbed Aviator do not distract from, but rather augment, the pervading sense of weightless possibility in Laprise’s curious world. He posits that his invisible world, full of this endless possibility, exists right beneath the surface of our own world. More radically, he suggests that our own minds are cabinets of curiosities, housing such wonders as dovetailing aerialists, steampunk engines of ingenuity, and the hum of humanity’s greatest discovery: its own capacity for imagination. Rest assured, Cirque lovers: the circus of the sun has finally come to town.

Cirque du Soleil’s Kurios—Cabinet of Curiosities runs through Nov. 29 on Randall’s Island. Tickets (from $54 to $175) and transportation information are available by visiting cirquedusoleil.com/kurios or calling 877-924-7783.

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