On the Ringling Midway, 1898

On the Ringling Midway, 1898
and on their way to guilt-free amusement. They did not enter the big top with "issues."

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Cirque du Soleil’s Intensely Creative Kurios Works Overtime to Win Us Back: Give Them Passing Marks for Trying


 
Circus Review
Cirque du Soleil - Kurios
San Francisco, December 5

In its most infections frames, what the latest offering from Cirque du Soliel seems the most happy doing is simply dancing.  Being a little goofy and off axis juggling and tumbling, making magic and riding upside-down bicycles — and dancing.  It's happy heart is that of a free spirited Italian variety show romping through the streets of Rome.  Fellini would have loved filming it all.

The agreeable spirit of quirky invention can make the more standard circus turns (two of them attached to lifelines) seem a tad secondary, or make that obligatory (a touch of Corteo comes to mind).   Even, slightly passe, as if we have somehow left the big top rather than entered it, and are on our way for other worlds to conquer and charm. The attractive revelers, who engage more directly with the audience this time around, have a ball cavorting about on ingenious rigging devices that lift and drop them with terrific force and agility.


Directed by Michel Laprise, the party begins at the wacky control panels of a whimsically mad-scientist character, who is very funny just to watch waddling about, puttering through a maze of gadgets, turning knobs to test lights, ridding oddball contraptions to prove his obscure genius – all of which gives the company ample sanction to flex its abundant creativity.  That’s about the gist of the first half.

It is not until after a long intermission, only lacking a pony ride to make the mechanizing orgy complete (there is free water this year, but no cups – they cost a buck), that Kurios turns itself into a high powered circus spectacular, and here the Montreal monster proves that it can still rise gloriously to the occasion when it has to, as here it surely must.  Public patronage has been ominously on the decline in recent seasons, a fact even acknowledged by the Cirque King himself.


First to soar are troupe exploits over a super-large trampoline, followed by a couple of fellows working straps in a clean efficient fashion.  After more audience clowning and dancing, and a rather drawn out finger puppet show, big top gusto resumes on the ground, where the company develops vaulting acrobatics in fantastically thrilling ways.  Much too marvelously complicated to explain, nor have I at hand a program to name names.  On principal, I refused to invest $20 in one. 

So, whatever you may think of the part that came before the break (I recall a blur of phantasmagorical stage pictures) , you are sure to go out singing at least half the show’s praises.  And the captivating special effects alone may haunt your imagination.   There were a large number of kiddies in the audience who sounded tickled.   I keep thinking movie.  I also keep thinking another cinematic bomb.   Antonioni might get it right.   Is he still alive?


On film, it would certainly be far easier to take in and comprehend.  When Kurios is working its many optical illusions, it is a campaign that demands meticulous attention, which can make being a patron to this party a bit of a workout, doubly so if your view is partially blocked by one of the four imposing tent poles – or if you are not particularly fond of craning your neck to peer deeply into a cosmos through an opening at the top of the tent. Bring binoculars.

Another question mark in my mind is the featured clown, who took up plenty of time with the audience being enormously clever and drawing ample laughter, or so I heard. Yes, it's that kind of a circus, too.

This is the Cirque du Soleil that some of its most devoted critics are calling the “comeback" edition, perhaps responding to Guy Laliberte's promise to return the company to its roots.  Strange, this is hardly a return to the ingenious simplicity that marked the company's first efforts under a smaller tent with virtually no special effects.  Kurios is really an extension of a habit for ever more clever high-tech stage wizardry that the Cirque King can't seem to break himself of.

So as for “comeback,”  I’m not so sure.  And given the swaths of empty chairs under a fairly near-full tent pitched in a city perhaps best suited by liberal bent to embrace what is on parade at the moment — San Francisco may not be so sure, either.

Overall rating (out of 4 stars tops):  3 stars                                 

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