When I was a child growing up in Calcutta, traveling circuses would come to town every winter. My grandfather would take me to see at least one show each year — it was a special something we did together. In the dusty grounds of Park Circus, sitting on wooden benches under the colorful big top, stuffing my mouth with popcorn or candy floss, round-eyed in wonder — it was an annual ritual.
The circuses those days were old-school.
There were tigers jumping through rings of fire, elephants balancing on rubber balls, clowns with the painted red noses making corny jokes. The acrobats and trapeze artists, however, were always my favorite.
One year, the Grand Russian Circus came to town. It was the first time I had been to a circus with no animals. At that time in my life, it hadn’t yet occurred to me to be concerned about the welfare of circus animals. I didn’t know that there would soon be a move to end animal cruelty by banning animal acts in circuses in many parts of the world. But I did know that I had watched something enhanced, not diminished, by the absence of animals (and incidentally, obvious clown acts). The finesse ensconcing the effortless skill of the performers entranced me. I knew this was the circus of the future.
Cirque Du Soleil’s Kurios – A Cabinet of Curiosities is the ultimate evolution of that circus of the future.
In recent months, Cirque has ventured into the arena of story-telling, including an appearance on Broadway with Paramour. Toruk, inspired by the blockbuster movie Avatar, has been touring the United States, and I went to see it. It was a technically perfect performance, but I found that the storyline rather detracted from it. The physical movements of the aliens in the world of Toruk are far beyond normal human ability, and the artistes executed this flawlessly.
But the structure of the story made these acts seem normal, rather than superhuman. Much of the wonder was lost.
With Kurios, its 35th production since 1984, Cirque du Soleil sticks closer to its roots. Act follows act of extraordinary physical achievement. The whole is presented with an elegant sophistication beyond what I have seen in past Cirque performances.
The audience is dazzled by the traditional acts we have come to expect from Cirque — acrobats, trapeze artists, aerialists, contortionists, jugglers, balance artists — every act more inspired than you have seen before. The elaborate costumes, a fusion of old Victorian and science fiction, are the perfect finishing touch.
It is difficult to pick out my favorite acts, since there are so many contenders. The fluid contortionists, dressed in reptilian costumes, performing on a giant mechanical hand. The balancing act set in the Mad Hatter’s tea party, where an impossibly tall tower of chairs climbs up to meet its mirror image descending from the heights. The miniature aristocratic lady personifying elegance as she glides on and off stage in several scenes. The mini-drama performed by an artiste’s hands, projects on an old-fashioned dirigible floating above the stage. The trapeze grand finale, set in a simulated aquatic world.
The very nature of circus is that it cannot be described in words. You have to see it for yourself. Kurios runs at Randall’s Island in NYC through November 27th. Don’t miss it!