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Cirque du Soleil’s Kurios: Cabinet of Curiosities

Confession: I’ve never been to Las Vegas – a city so single-mindedly devoted to entertainment (okay, and vice and capitalism, but let’s gloss over that for now). Whenever I see a Cirque du Soleil show, however, I feel like a part of Sin City – where the company has multiple residencies – has been transported to London. Packing a show, conceived for a purpose-built, fully-equipped, modern auditorium into a 150-year-old concert hall always feels to me like an absolute miracle. Kurios is no exception, filling the vast space of the Royal Albert Hall, and somehow rigging lights and pulleys and flying chunks of set in from the curved roof. You can only have a great evening at this or any other Cirque du Soleil show, and it does not disappoint for spectacular acts demonstrating the incredible feats humans can achieve with enough practice.

Cirque du Soleil KURIOS - Credit Andy Paradise.
Cirque du Soleil KURIOS – Credit Andy Paradise.

Cirque du Soleil is internationally-famous as the world-leading circus troupe. I feel the word ‘troupe’ might be misapplied to a once billion-dollar business, which went bankrupt during the pandemic and is now even more firmly in the grip of financiers, but this rarely shows on stage, so I’m sticking with the word. As such, Soleil is able to attract the greatest performers from all over the globe, people who aren’t just at the peak of their athletic game, but who are pushing the limits of their chosen discipline(s).

Gasps for Ukrainian / Russian Duo Volodymyr Klavdich and Ekaterina Evdokimova, tumbling and spinning in the air with such astonishing trust in one another, punctuate an early delight, but only hint at what is to come. The truth is that the second half outpaces the first (unusual for this sort of show), especially if we allow Colombian James Gonzalez’s balancing act (before the interval, but after the halfway point of the running order) to be considered part of that second half. With him teetering on a rola bola stacked on another rola bola stacked on a trapeze, I literally do not believe what I’m seeing, questioning whether some trick is being played on us. I really find it that hard to conceive that anyone could have such superhuman control over keeping themselves vertical.

A trampoline act coming out of the interval, bringing together performers from Belarus, Belgium, Denmark, France, Russia and the UK expands to fill the space available, delighting mainly because it is clear that the bouncing acrobats are (unsurprisingly) having a huge amount of fun. It’s infectious.

(Spain’s) Nicolas Baixas uses hand-puppetry and a ‘magic lantern’ to tell a whimsical, musical, break-dancing tale. It’s a small-made-large-enough-to-fill-a-theatre performance that hits all the right notes. And the concluding tumbling Banquine extravaganza has the audience rightly cheering for humans, tossed through the air like uncautious felines, yet who land with grace atop pyramids of other people.

Hopefully, I’ve conveyed that this show will leave you joyous and astonished and happy to have forked out for what can be one of the hottest (and most expensive!) tickets in town. You will not regret seeing this show. Yet, perhaps you’ve detected that amongst all these superlatives, I’m holding something back. You might have spotted I’ve talked about the acts, but not much about the show as a whole.

Kurios has a promising theme/conceit: a cabinet of curiosities brought to life into a steampunk world. A Victorian (?) inventor/explorer is transported via one of his creations to this place (called Curiosistan) and tours the wonders there. I say promising, because while the sets are gorgeously realised, and the background characters add fun colour, It comes across at times as sexless and sterile, beyond what’s necessary to make for what is, no doubt, a family show. This doesn’t come across as the richly detailed world of, for example, last year’s UK Soleil tour, Luzia. That show, meticulously researched and inspired through company visits to Mexico, combined imagination with those happenstance discoveries that only come from visiting a real place and having preconceptions shattered by what you encounter. In comparison, I found Kurios, woven of pure imagination, somewhat flat. Many of my favourite acts were those with minimal evidence of the theme on show, and the music and movement interstitials used to connect disparate elements never quite reached the evocative highs I know Cirque du Soleil can attain.

I mentioned that Soleil can call upon the greatest show-people from around the world. As in Las Vegas, Kurios feels as if the stars of this show have come to dazzle, stay a while, but haven’t truly formed a unified community, and will no doubt sometime go their separate ways.

4 stars

Review by Ben Ross

Discover a world of wonders at Cirque du Soleil’s European Premiere of Kurios: Cabinet of Curiosities. Celebrating the 150th anniversary of the iconic Royal Albert Hall, this steam-punk-inspired spectacle flies into London January 2023.

In an alternate yet familiar past, a Seeker discovers that in order to glimpse the marvels that lie below the surface we must first learn to close our eyes and trust our imaginations.

In his larger-than-life curio cabinet, the Seeker is convinced that there exists a hidden, invisible world, a place where the craziest ideas and grandest dreams await. A collection of otherworldly characters suddenly step into his makeshift mechanical world and jump to life one by one before his very eyes.

Seeing is disbelieving with Kurios. Gasp at the daring acrobatics, clever contortion and breath-taking talent of Cirque du Soleil that will delight all ages.

Friday 13 January – Sunday 5 March 2023

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