Cirque du Soleil’s Kurios serves up thrills both large and small

    1 of 2 2 of 2

      Cirque du Soleil’s Kurios—Cabinet of Curiosities feels different than the Montreal company’s other shows, for reasons both big and small. On the outsized side, you have, for instance, the world’s largest trampoline; a giant, 750-pound moving mechanical hand; and a colossal steampunk-meets-Jules-Verne set with two towers made out of old gramophones and typewriters.

      But in this Cirque show in particular, the delights also come in the details. There’s the beautifully simple theatre of hands, projected onto a hot-air balloon. There’s Mini Lili, the three-foot-tall Rima Hadchiti, who lives inside the overcoat of the show’s host. And then there’s the yo-yo. Or, to be more exact, the yo-yos.

      When Chih-Min Tuan appears on-stage after a stream of other acrobats, he says, it takes audiences a moment to even process what exactly he’s performing tricks with.

      “Everybody has played with one, but it’s totally different when they see it on-stage,” says the artist, visiting Vancouver with a couple of castmates before Kurios opens here, and wearing the sleek, Edwardian-style blue vest, bow tie, and dress shirt that he sports in the show. “Sometimes they’re a little bit confused. They say, ‘Is that really a yo-yo?’ ” When the recognition sets in, he says, they can instantly relate to his more elaborate versions of Rock the Baby and the Elevator—and then appreciate the mad skills that go into his double–yo-yo tricks. “Sometimes I make people scream in their seats,” he says.

      It’s a fun new experience for the Taiwanese performer, who could never have imagined he’d end up running away with the circus. He’s a second-place world champion who started playing with the toy as a kid, just like anyone else. “I just learned a lot of skills on my own; I watched videos on YouTube,” says Tuan, who’s now a YouTube yo-yo sensation in his own right. “After I finished school, I became a street performer, and I went to a lot of world contests.” The difference now, under the spotlights and amid the elaborate sets of Cirque? “I need to use more speed and I have to match the tempo of the music,” says Tuan, who joined the show in 2015.

      Whether the physical feats are big or small, percussionist and vocalist Lana Cenčić insists that watching them never becomes run-of-the-mill, no matter how many times she performs Kurios. The musicians who play the style- and culture-melding score have to keep an eye on the artists for their cues, but sometimes, she admits, she loses herself in the sense of danger. Referring to one of the show’s most buzzed-about acts—the so-called Rolla Bolla, in which an artist balances on top of a precarious, ever-taller stack of tubes—she says: “Sometimes if I’m watching it, I don’t know if he is about to fall. I still say ‘Whaaa!’ ” she explains, wearing the high-collared, corseted gown that’s her Kurios costume.

      Cirque du Soleil's Kurios—Cabinet of Curiosities offers steampunk spectacle.

      “I sing in ‘Straps’,” she continues, referring to an aerial faux-conjoined-twin routine that unfolds high above the audience, “and sometimes I forget to come in if I am watching the acrobat! And to think when I got this job I was a little bit concerned how I would be able to do this every day, eight or 10 times a week, without getting sick of it. But the audience reaction is different every night; so far I’ve never had that feeling.”

      Rénald Laurin concurs. He holds the entire show together as the central Seeker—a sort of inventor-scientist-dreamer who is attempting to discover electricity but opens an entire fantasy world of contraptions instead. (“I’m the mayonnaise,” he says with a laugh.)

      He balances his own background of acting, acrobatics, and clowning to create as authentic a character as possible at the centre of the striped Grand Chapiteau tent. And that requires him, like Cenčić and Tuan, to be constantly awed by what he experiences around him on-stage.

      “That’s the danger: you can’t go on automatic pilot,” he tells the Straight. “The audience immediately perceives it. You look false and you feel false.

      “Yes, every day is different, and you have to communicate the here and now with the audience,” he continues. “In the big top you really see the baby crying or the lady leaving for popcorn. It keeps you always on your toes.” And constantly curious.

      Cirque du Soleil presents Kurios—Cabinet of Curiosities at Concord Pacific Place to December 31.