Over its 31 years, Cirque du Soleil has evolved into a troupe of otherworldly beings. With ever-more-fanciful shows and concepts, the world’s most famous human-powered circus now seems populated entirely by fantastical beings: mythical goddesses, lizard men and fierce Amazons, so made up and costumed that you watch their astonishing feats as you would an animated movie. But not “Kurios.” Just opened at Redmond’s Marymoor Park, the steampunk-themed show makes its world and characters almost entirely human — and in doing so, reawakens our sense of sheer wonder.
Of course, as with most Cirque shows, the plot is minimal, but that really doesn’t matter in the wake of the creativity that has gone into this neo-Victorian world of magical science and exploration. Whimsical contraptions that whir, whistle and flash; bronze machines and glass-domed specimens whizzing around on tiny tracks; Doctor-Who-meets-Jules-Verne characters (a man with accordion-pleated legs, a trio of mad scientists, a deep-sea armored robot, an “invisible” man) — and that’s even before the show begins.
As the lead character (a rather goofy Seeker) watches while his “cabinet of curiosities” comes to life one by one, the acts of “Kurios” unfold like a traditional circus, reworked with 21st-century technology. And except for a couple of acts, everyone is dressed and made up like humans, evoking even more wonder as we truly appreciate their super-human abilities.
First up is a flying trapeze act without the trapeze — just a burly man on a tower, flying his partner in swings and flips and catches (Roman and Olena Terenshchenko). Last Thursday night, though, one of those catches missed, the flyer crashing as the audience gasped. Cirque du Soleil is known for almost inhuman training standards, and one wonders what the fallout is for a miss like this. (According to public relations staff, the policy is to pull the artist from the show, replacing them with a backup until they are well enough to come back in.) But for the audience, witnessing these very human performers climb back up, reassemble their courage and continue the act, that vulnerability is precisely what makes circus so captivating. These are real people up there, not gods — and we feel their emotions with them.
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More delightful metaphors: an aerial act by a jaunty-capped blonde on an upside-down bicycle (Anne Weissbecker), a mime with an invisible circus (like fleas, only bigger, by David-Alexandre Despres, who also does a hilarious cat imitation), a rola bola “aviator” swinging on a flying machine (James Eulises Gonzalez Correa), a pair of conjoined twins miraculously separated by their soaringly graceful aerial straps routine (Roman and Vitali Tomanov). Two of the most clever conceits were a handstand chair balance (Andrii Bondarenko) above a dinner party table, inventively mirrored by a magnetized tableful of identical guests hanging from the ceiling; and a school of polka-dotted “flying fish,” bouncing and flipping around a giant trampoline net with triple flips and twists, catching hold of an aerial ladder and falling again with cheeky glee. The Jules Verne underwater world continued with a contortion act choreographed to imitate eels, a perfect mixture of swift and sensuous, with stunning electric-blue-green costumes.
Every Victorian fascination was there, from Cirque’s tiny miniature lady (Antanina Satsura), transported in a metal diving-bell home and babbling on her newfangled telephone, to the steampunk band parading like a train and a very clever joke about the “His Master’s Voice” gramophone. And for the grand finale the acrobats returned, this time in stripy 1900s swimsuits with breathtaking dives and four-person-high shoulderstands.
It’s easy to take phenomenal circus artists for granted when they’re inhumanly perfect and costumed into magical unreality. But “Kurios” reminds us all that Cirque du Soleil performers are human after all — which gives us an even more Victorian-era delight in their sheer prowess.