Experimental magic

Cirque show reimagines the industrial revolution


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Last week, the empty lot sitting on the corner of Kenaston Boulevard and Sterling Lyon Parkway got a temporary facelift when Cirque du Soleil delivered their famous Big Top for their upcoming show Kurios: Cabinet of Curiosities.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 01/06/2017 (2118 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Last week, the empty lot sitting on the corner of Kenaston Boulevard and Sterling Lyon Parkway got a temporary facelift when Cirque du Soleil delivered their famous Big Top for their upcoming show Kurios: Cabinet of Curiosities.

The blue-and-yellow striped tent is impossible to miss. At 19 metres high and 51 metres in diameter with a seating capacity of around 2,600, the venue alone may be enough to lure those who have previously foregone seeing the Montreal-based theatre troupe at MTS Centre, and promises to be an entirely different experience for Cirque regulars. 

“Because this is the first Big Top production coming to Winnipeg, the whole experience will be very different for anyone who may have gone to an arena show,” says Jeff Lovari, publicist for the show. 

“We manage all of our sites, so from the moment the guests park and enter, see the sights and the concessions and the front of house, it’s a much more theatrical environment that we can control in a way we can’t in an arena,” adds artistic director Rachel Lancaster, who has been with Kurios for almost a year, but has worked for Cirque since 2011. 

Previously, that same location housed the White Big Top for Odysseo, the equestrian and acrobatic show that took over the city for nearly two months in 2015. Odysseo was created by Cirque du Soleil co-founder Normand Latourelle, however did not fall under the Cirque umbrella (or tent, as it were). 

The story of Kurios is rooted in an “alternate but familiar past”; one that pays homage to an industrial revolution-esque era that developed differently from the one we experienced in our reality. It’s a parallel universe in which the Seeker, a scientist, is convinced within his massive curio cabinet is another, invisible world. 

“The scientist (Seeker) has been exploring the same experiments for a long time… Michel Laprise, who created the show, used Edison as a reference for this,” Lancaster explains.

“Edison, I think, tried 98 or 97 times to think of how to make a light bulb work. Around time 67 or 70, somebody asked him, ‘Are you not getting frustrated with this? Are you not getting angry?’ And he said ‘No, because every time I solve a new problem, I’m one step closer.’ So that was very much what Michel’s inspiration was for the scientist, and basically his experiments evolve and different things start to happen and that’s where we get into the cast and the characters of Kurios.. that’s where his journey begins.”

Given the 19th-century references in the narrative, steampunk became the natural selection for set design and costuming; it’s an intricate and difficult style to execute, especially considering each of the 426 prop pieces and more than 100 costumes must be packed and unpacked for travel every few weeks. But when Cirque picks a theme, they go all in. 

The character, Mr. Microcosmos, for example, is fitted with a metal belly that weighs almost 10 kilograms and has its own independent systems for lighting and ventilation. A large mechanical hand, which acts as both a character and performance structure, is manipulated by two artists and looks as though it is built from various materials such as wood, metal, marble and iron (though it’s actually made of fibreglass).

“The thing that’s great about the steampunk aesthetic is it’s always referencing back to that but it also allows a lot of unique costumes and prop items that continue to change and grow with the show as well,” Lancaster says. 

“I would say the other thing about the costumes that are interesting compared to our other shows that are much more fantasy, that because this takes place in an actual time period, the reference had to be something familiar,” Lovari says.  

“You’ll see that when you see the show, the artists look like they’re wearing wool suits and tweed and sweaters, but obviously we can’t use those materials… so our costume workshop in Montreal did a really brilliant job of printing these textures on very pliable, acrobatic fabric. From the audience it looks like someone is wearing a tweed suit but they can also tumble and do splits and do all the things they need to do for their performance.”

As with all Cirque shows, Kurios will not be without its fair share of acrobatic and aerial performances. For instance, Lancaster says the routine on the acro net — a large piece of netting typically used to catch performers but is instead used to fling them into the air — is one of the most “spectacular” numbers she has seen during her time with Cirque. 

“Well every Cirque du Soleil show, especially the Big Top shows, has this unique and ever changing creative beat behind it,” she says. “So the goal is always to create a show that is very different than the one that was created before… and one of the main ways Cirque does that is to really invest in developing new acrobatic equipment and ideas, so Kurios has acts that are unique that can only be seen in this show.” 


Twitter: @NireRabel

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