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Cirque du Soleil Goes Steampunk

The theatrical company returns to San Francisco for the U.S. premiere of “Kurios: Cabinet of Curiosities.”

Cirque du Soleil returns to San Francisco with the U.S. premiere of “Kurios: Cabinet of Curiosities” Nov. 14-Jan. 18. Set in the late 19th century during the thrilling boom of countless new mechanical inventions and gadgets, the show earned rave reviews from Canadian critics, who hailed the Montreal-headquartered company’s newest touring show its freshest and funniest production in years, praising the jazzy score, flawless transitions and decidedly warmhearted mood. The intimate stadium seating in the unmistakable blue and yellow big top tent keeps the entire audience close to the action, which involves an aerial cyclist and an upside down chair balancing act. The show’s writer and director Michel Laprise (the mastermind behind Madonna’s Super Bowl performance and 2012 tour) gives us an insider’s account. Tickets $53-$135. Big top, AT&T Park, San Francisco. 877.924.7783.


Michael Laprise, writer and director of "Kurios"
Michael Laprise, writer and director of "Kurios" (©Cirque du Soleil 2014)

Can you give us a one-sentence synopsis of the “Kurios” storyline?

An inventor travels the world and brings curiosities back to his laboratory and then receives visitors from another dimension who magically bring these curiosities to life.

How will the audience find this show different than the Cirque performances of recent years?

We went back to the feeling of when we were street performers and had to catch the attention of the audience walking in the streets with surprising, unusual things. Also we decided to not have traditional acrobatic apparatus, to provoke ourselves to work differently. There is no trapeze; the contortionists perform on a giant hand. We worked very hard to create a credible world for this show so when the audience enters the Grand Chapiteau, they feel like they arrive in a pre-existing world where everything is possible. The music is a key element in the freshness of our show. It is very festive. It’s not world beat; it is electro swing with some classical interludes. And the band is phenomenal! We also have most of our characters being real humans, not all creatures. It makes a difference as the audience can identify themselves with these characters. Also, it was important for us to have moments of human performances in the show that are not acrobatic. There is a performance of hand puppetry where artists tell a whole story with their fingers becoming characters. This is projected on a montgolfière [hot air balloon] that is deployed above the stage. It’s ironic that we did a lot of research and development to make a show that would look and feel low tech! It feels more human.  

2014 Cirque du Soleil
(©2014 Cirque du Soleil)

How did your theater background influence the show?

Theater is the art of storytelling. So the show doesn’t feel like a collection of acts that are presented in order. It feels like a story that deploys, a world that reveals itself to the audience. I first wrote the story, and then we selected and created acts that would fit in the concept of the show.

What is your favorite act?

I love each of the acts and the transitions between the acts. It is the first time I’ve liked each and every act so clearly in my life. And, funny enough, that is also what the audience expresses in the surveys. If I had to pick one to just elaborate on the difference of this show, it would be our “Invisible Circus,” where we have six invisible artists who perform on the unicycle, teeterboard, etc., the only traditional apparatus in the show. There is even an invisible lion. You infer their presence and their actions by the movements of the objects they interact with. 

2014 Cirque du Soleil
(©2014 Cirque du Soleil)

At one time, one invisible acrobat is on the top of the springboard high in the masts and has to jump in a little shallow basin of water. He’s scared, and the master of ceremony asks the audience to encourage him. When I see 2,700 people, mostly grown-ups, shouting “Let’s go Giuseppe, let’s go!” I feel very happy. The magic is operating. We’re also having lots of fun with our Acro Net act, a giant trampoline that is even larger than the stage, stretching beyond the first rows of audience members. We had to invent a new repertoire of tricks for this new apparatus.