Produced by: Cirque du Soleil
When: November 14, 2014, through January 18, 2015
Where: Under the blue-and-yellow Big Top at AT&T Park, 24 Willie Mays Plaza, San Francisco, California
Tickets: $53=$135; visit cirquedusoleil.com/kurios or call 1-800-450-1480
an Francisco, is an absolute feast for the eyes and a kicking-off place for the imagination. Kevin Kelly reviews. Update: The show has since moved on to Seattle, Washington, through March 22, 2015. Keep track at www.cirquedusoleil.com.
but light on narrative
You don't need a Golden Ticket just a regular ticket to tour Cirque du Soleil's latest offering, but it's not far removed from the glittering, otherworldly oasis that Willie Wonka's imagination built.
The company's signature blue-and-yellow-striped big top rests like a giant piece of wrapped candy in a parking lot of AT&T Park in San Francisco. Pass beneath the raised flaps to attend "Kurios Cabinet of Curiosities," playing through January 18, 2015, and you're transported to an alternate universe.
Familiar objects steam engine, hot-air balloon, chandelier, bicycle dot the landscape, but are overrun by countless eye-popping oddities: a gigantic, Dr. Doom-like disembodied hand; a living "porcelain doll" that emerges from a locomotive's smoke box door, which doubles as a character's metallic beer belly; and half man-half beast (-half object, in the case of Nico the Accordion Man) specimens spinning and bouncing through the air or wriggling along the stage floor.
"Kurios," Cirque du Soleil’s 30th anniversary exhibition, is a throwback to the company’s heyday. Concentrating mostly on acrobatics and extraordinary set pieces, it's more spectacle and less narrative than other recent Cirque productions, such as "Ovo," with its magnifying-glass peek into the world of insects, or "Kà," a dramatic coming-of-age tale. In fact, there was no discernible storyline at all on opening night.
With nothing linking the acts together (there are 13 in all), each piece is taken at face value, and a few come off as throwaways, particularly Invisible Circus, trumpeting its one-note joke for far too long. But the stunning, low-tech Continent of Hands with its realistic breakdancing competition via wiggling fingers, taking the act into the near the end of Act 2, more than makes up for the shortcomings. In fact, the show could have used more audience participation. For instance, in one performance, a clown courts an audience member to hilarious effect, bringing the house down.
Another exceptional piece, Upside Down World, makes little sense, but drips with surreality, as characters build a ladder out of chairs to pass a chandelier to their mirror selves looking down at them from the top of the arena.
In defense of the plot-thin "Kurios," the Wunderkammern (German for "wonder rooms") the show is based on, which sprung up throughout Europe in the 16th century, were designed to shock and titillate, not educate viewers. Often the bounties of rulers and aristocrats, these collections melded science and superstition in a mix of exotic artifacts and mythic creations. Such cabinets of curiosities, which later moved in a more scientific direction, are heralded as the precursors to modern-day museums.
The show kicks off in grand fashion, sort of a hybrid between Fritz Lang's "Metropolis," James Whale's "Frankenstein" and the aforementioned "Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory." In brief, The Seeker, a bumbling mad scientist, has finally gotten his steampunk imagination machine to work, and in comes a train, spitting out "Kurios'" the 8-member swing band and all the performers who aren't already descending from the rafters. What follows are all the marvels inside The Seeker's noggin brought to life until his cabinet or trunk, as is the case here is empty.
It behooves the circus-goer to get seats as close to the stage as possible. While there are no bad seats in the house, the farther one is back from the stage, the more the support masts get in the way of the action. Sit in the first few rows and revel or gasp in fear as acrobats at times fly directly overhead.
It's hard to grasp the amount of work that went into bringing "Kurios" to the stage, and it's impossible to take in the entire spectacle in one viewing. Cirque productions often cost in the tens of millions of dollars. Press materials detail the near-pyramid-building effort it took to create the set's centerpieces and stage floor, the 17-member creative team that guided production and the more than 100 costumes on display.
But one thing is certain: "Kurios" is an experience like none other, and if you leave the left side of your brain at home, you’re guaranteed a good time. As Willy Wonka himself said, "There is no life I know to compare with pure imagination. Living there, you'll be free if you truly wish to be." So sit back and let the phantasmagoria take over.
Email Kevin Kelly at firstname.lastname@example.org