Kurios's surreal tricks and steampunk stylings create a beautifully strange world

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      A Cirque du Soleil production. At Concord Pacific Place on Thursday, October 19. Continues until December 31

      Kurios—Cabinet of Curiosities differentiates itself from the Cirque du Soleil masses not just by its strong, steampunk-styled look, but by the way it puts new twists on the array of acrobatics. In the case of the show’s best sequence, it literally turns things upside down—creating a surreal trick of the eye that, like so many other moments here, might please René Magritte himself.

      On one level, the scene is a chair-stacking balancing act like those you’ve seen in other shows. Here, it takes place at a raucous dinner party, with one mustachioed member of the group climbing and hand-standing his way to the top. But wait: at the very peak of the tent is an identical party of people hanging upside-down enjoying their meal—and the acrobat’s equally dapper doppelgänger building his way toward the floor.

      Just as awe-inducing—for its artistry as much as its physical feats—is a gorgeously strange conjoined-twin straps act, where the high-flying brothers swing from one arm and stay linked with the other. Then there’s the contortionist act that finds parrotfish-spotted creatures forming ever-more elaborate sculptures on the palm of a mechanical hand straight out of Metropolis; you lose track of where heads and limbs start and end as they melt into an amorphous mass.

      Yes, Kurios is a parade of circus acts, but it creates one of the most strange, fully realized dream worlds that Cirque’s ever conjured here. (The Old World–infused Corteo is the only one that comes close.) Kurios harks back to the age of electricity—antique incandescent light bulbs add an atmospheric warm-sepia glow—but also plays with turn-of-the-last-century circuses and the futurism that fuelled talents like Fritz Lang, H.G. Wells, and the Wright Brothers. (Primitive flying machines abound.)


      The costumes are among Cirque’s best, including the legion of robots that look cobbled together from a Jules Verne nightmare, an accordion man who wheezes as he walks, and a top-hatted fellow whose bathysphere-belly opens to reveal a live occupant. Gramophones become hats; bouncy metal springs become skirts; and reptilian frills flutter as men fly high from a massive trampoline.

      The entire look of the show feels beautifully low-tech—the antithesis of some of the glitzier, Vegas-style spectacles you might associate with the Quebec mega-troupe. (Credit goes to Stéphane Roy for the set and props, and Philippe Guillotel for the costumes.) There’s no more magical example than the hand theatre, projected on a hot-air balloon, that uses a simple fishbowl of water, tinsel, and the world’s tiniest sneakers to breathtaking effect.

      It’s one of many unexpected, exuberantly oddball moments from a company that—even as it ever-more hones its craft—thankfully still remembers how to keep it weird.