Cirque du Soleil: Kurios

by Meg Currell

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Thursday September 7, 2017

Cirque du Soleil: Kurios

On the far north end of Portland, a colorful circus tent popped up a couple of weeks ago. It belongs to Cirque du Soleil, the grand chapiteau under which their traveling show "KURIOS: Cabinet of Curiosities" is performed all around the country. After several years of wanting to see a Cirque du Soleil show, I finally took this opportunity on a hot, smoky night under a full orange moon.

From the moment you approach the mammoth tent, there is a sensation of time suspended. In the lobby, the largest theatrical producer in the world blends the magic and wonder of childhood carnival memories with polished hospitality and performance. Every inch of the tent interior is kitted out with enormous tent poles strung with elaborate lights, greeters and ushers every several feet, vendors selling themed hats and masks and eyewear. You are encouraged to come in costume, and some in the audience do.

The show begins on stage while people are finding their seats, with characters moving about "preparing." A carnival barker/ringmaster announces the start of the action, and the dreamlike show begins. The players parade through the audience, marching to a blend of live and recorded music, blurring the lines of polished performance and raw jubilance, a celebration of talents and the coy magic of street performance.

The theme of "KURIOS" is steampunk, a jumbled string of vignettes each highlighting a performer or skill. Jugglers, acrobats, and drummers kick off the show in a dizzying mťlange of choreography. So much happens onstage it's hard to know where to fix your eye, but eventually, you just succumb to the dream and let the colors and wonder wash over you.

Every element of this show is so carefully constructed there isn't a single seam showing or step out of place, and yet the precision is charming and engaging, never cold. While it's difficult to discern any through-line of a story in this show, despite Cirque's reputation for storytelling, the vignettes are so entrancing that the lack of a story eventually doesn't matter.

The performers in "KURIOS" are, naturally, among the best in the world, but there were some scenes that were particularly moving. The aerialist on the bicycle was mesmerizing, demonstrating strength with such casual flair she flicked a hair out of her eyes while she was floating down hanging upside down from the bike frame.

A man climbed on balanced chairs ever skyward until the collective eye of the audience saw that there was another man hanging upside down from the ceiling "balancing" chairs downward, creating a mirror image of the scene below. A troupe of more than a dozen acrobats somersaulted over each other onto great pyramids built on massively muscled men. Two men swung over the audience's heads in huge loops of flight at the end of aerial straps, nothing holding them fast except their own hands.

Five other acrobats (like human rubber balls) flung themselves toward the ceiling from a great trampoline, passing each other within mere centimeters, sometimes catching the trapeze near the ceiling and then reaching down and catching another rubber ball mid-flight. Every step and swing is choreographed, the joy practiced and sure, but the effect is immersive, celebratory, and beguiling.

"KURIOS" also explores the enchanting potential of small-scale storytelling. The "ringmaster" shines in his scene of solo performance, an audience participation event in which he tells the tale of a would-be seduction interrupted by the appearance of house pets.

His pantomime is so delightful, pure nonverbal communication, the audience roared. Finally, the deft, delicate finger puppetry, filmed close-up and broadcast sweetly on an old-fashioned dirigible above the heads of the darkened performers, demonstrated Cirque du Soleil's considerable imaginative gifts, and the tremendous connective power of physical theatre.

Cirque du Soleil delivered on their reputation's promise of bewitching performances and an evening of pure joy in a world outside of time. Take the time to go to that funny blue and yellow tent near the north end of the highway, and just lose yourself for a couple of hours.

"KURIOS: Cabinet of Curiosities" runs through October 8 at Portland Expo Center, 2060 N Marine Dr, Portland, OR 97217. For tickets and information, call 1-877-924-7783 or go to

Meg Currell is a freelance author based in Portland, where she moved for the coffee and mountain views. With a background in literature and music, she explores dance, concerts and DIY with equal enthusiasm. She is currently at work on a collection of short stories.