Alexander (Sasha) Shulgin, the Californian pharmacologist and psychoactive-drug pioneer who recently died, believed that “our entire universe is contained in the mind and the spirit.” I believe Michel Laprise, the writer and director of Kurios: Cabinet of Curiosities, the kinetic, whimsical and astounding new production from Montreal’s Cirque du Soleil, drinks Shulgin’s electric Kool-Aid, or at least subscribes to his beliefs. Nothing runs wild like one’s imagination: A four-minute mile is nothing to the mind. Laprise’s new show salutes the surreal, investigates the invisible and appeals to our sense of wonder (and jazzy accordion music), relying less on exoticism and athleticism and more on old-school bliss-making and zip.
The world of Laprise, who collaborated with the pop star Madonna on her 2012 Super Bowl halftime extravaganza and her subsequent world tour, lives in the head of The Seeker (Anton Valen), a humanist and innocent whose dreams are steampunk-eccentric, whiz-bang Victorian and Jules Verne-wild. The setting is 19th-century, retro-future mechanical – Edison on acid, maybe.
The performance begins with the arrival of a locomotive full of the loco: acrobats, a juggler, percussionists and decked-out dancers. What come next are Cirque-standard East European trapeze specialists and Asian contortionists. More enchanting is the imaginary traditional circus, a thing of three-ring whimsy where performers are invisible but their actions are perceived. A lion escapes to the highest reaches of the stands – talk about an uproar.
One of Kurios’s most curious and charming cast members is Mini Lilli (Antanina Satsura), a one-metre munchkin who lives inside a man, or at least inside his bulbous overcoat. Representing her host’s intuitive self and fragile and poetic side, she lets her self out often, the stage a soulful and more delightful place for her smiling presence.
Highlights include bit of “hand theatre,” involving dancing finger-people, with their projections displayed upon a hot-air balloon. Can the fingers break dance? Let’s just say they nail it, nothing sleight about them.
Cat people will go crazy for clown David-Alexandre Després’s kitty imitation – it is purrfect (there, I said it) – involving an audience member.
The wildest segment is a dinner party turned upside down and hallucinogenic. Chairs are balanced as duplicate mirror-image characters emerge, representing a parallel universe.
A parallel universe: The way things could have been. Is it a better place? The hope is yes, but the important thing is to not stop looking. Because just when one thinks they’ve seen it all, something wonderful might present itself – something like the mind-blowing Kurios, if one is lucky and open to possibilities.
Kurios: Cabinet of Curiosities runs in Toronto until Oct. 26 (cirquedusoleil.com).