Review: ‘Kurios’ is Cirque at its quirky best

Cirque du Soleil keeps getting curiouser and curiouser — in the best possible way.

With “Kurios: Cabinet of Curiosities,” the new show in the trademark blue-and-yellow big top beside Atlantic Station, the Montreal-based circus opens a door to a world of astonishing whimsy.

Like previous Cirque extravaganzas, writer-director Michel Laprise’s “Kurios” hangs on the most tentative of narrative threads. Yet it uses an elaborate tool kit of technology, design and physical artistry to sail to new heights.

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Referencing steam punk, Victorian train stations, Fritz Lang’s iconic film “Metropolis” and a time-traveling, science-fiction style that recalls Jules Verne, “Kurios” places us inside the head of a so-called Seeker who believes a mysterious invisible world exists outside the realm of reality.

And, oh, the things he sees.

You’d need to buy a program to understand the meaning of the people and things that spill from his curio cabinet: The Curiosistanians, Mr. Microcosmos, Mini Lili, Nico the Accordion Man, Klara the Telegraph of the Invisible. Say what?

Better to sit back, refrain from trying to make sense of the nonsensical, and allow the show to transport you to its alternate universe of Victrolas, electrical gizmos and robotic oddities, some of which circle the stage on an endless loop. (One enormous set piece that appears every now and then looks like a hand that’s been chopped off a giant knight in armor.)

Nearly every form of transportation is embraced in this Industrial Age tableaux — plane, trains, hot-air balloons. In a dazzling sequence near the top of the show, a train arrives onstage, and the Curiosistanians emerge in their period hats and mustaches. (Sets are by Stéphane Roy, costumes by Philippe Guillotel.)

While “Kurios” traffics in daring feats of athleticism — contortion, acrobatics, aerial bicycling, and a magnificent trampoline sequence — some of the most brilliant work is pure and elemental.

Take the Invisible Circus, for instance.

An oddball ringmaster (Facundo Gimenez), who will return for the delicious Comic Act, suggests an array of traditional circus feats in miniature — a high-wire act, a teeter-boarder, a platform diver — through the power of suggestion. We see evidence in the form of jiggling ropes, splashes of water and a roaring lion. But is anything really there?

In Comic Act, Gimenez grabs a “date” from the audience, plops her down on a sofa, and ducks out for drinks. While she waits, this superb physical comedian impersonates a squawking parrot and a preening cat — to hysterical effect.

Through the course of the show, a pair of “Siamese Twins” will separate to fly across the air on swinging straps. Mini Lili (Antanina Satsura), an elegantly coiffed and gowned woman standing all of 3 feet 2, climbs out of the rotund belly of Mr. Microcosmos. This elfin diva speaks in squeaky chipmunk gibberish, dons opera glasses and generally holds court from the vantage point of her bubblelike living room.

Near the end of the show, a giant hot-air balloon floats into view, while some amazing puppet work transpires down below. While an artist manipulates his fingers to create tiny figures wearing tiny sneakers and gliding on tiny skateboards, a camera films the performance and projects it onto the hot-air balloon above, exaggerating the scale and ratcheting up the wow factor.

A conceit that is both ridiculously simple and jaw-droppingly magnificent, it’s Cirque du Soleil at its finest. Long after the spinning yo-yos and the Rola Bola man turn into a blur of memory, it’s the smaller miracles that spring from this cabinet of curiosities that we remember.

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