Arts | Outings + Activities

How Do They Do That?! Review of Cirque du Soleil's 'Kurios'

Cirque's latest spectacle weaves a completely enthralling, steampunk fantasy world under the big top

Courtesy of Cirque du Soleil' Kurios

Partway through the first act of Cirque du Soleil’s Kurios, I lost count of how many times I heard “Oh my God” and “How do they do that?” out of my kids’ mouths.

Jaw dropping is not an exaggeration when it comes to the spectacle that is Quebéc-based Cirque, whose latest production, Kurios, is being performed at Marymoor Park through March 22. To the uninitiated, Cirque du Soleil is not your standard-issue circus (no live animal acts or floppy-footed clowns). Cirque combines over-the-top showmanship, thrilling acrobatic daring, humor, wonderful live music, precise choreography and stunning sets and costumes to weave a completely enthralling fantasy world under the big top.

Kurios evokes a Victorian steampunk vibe set in what show creators call “a retro future,” referencing the beginning of the industrial revolution when the steam engine reigned supreme. “It’s like Jules Verne meets Thomas Edison in an alternate reality, out of time,” explains Cirque set designer Stéphane Roy. As spectators in the 62-foot-high Grand Chapiteau, we’re drawn inside the curio cabinet of a quasi-inventor (the Seeker) filled with unusual objects collected on his travels. The themes of sound and electricity run throughout the show with a set full of wonderful makeshift mechanical objects, cobbled from things like gramophones, turbines, electrical bulbs and typewriters.

Kurios contortionist. Credit: Martin Girard

The Seeker’s crew includes some very cool insect-like robots (though I could see these being a bit scary to the youngest kids) plus two characters who show up on billboards around town advertising the show: Nico the accordion man (whose costume contracts and expands like an accordion) and Mr. Microcosmos, a kind of mechanical Obelix (inspired by a character in the French comic series The Adventures of Asterix).

My kids, ages 9 and 12, gasped when a door in Microcosmos’ iron belly opens to reveal an armchair and chandelier-lit sitting room, where Mini Lili (one of the world’s smallest humans, standing roughly three foot three and weighing in around 40 pounds), is happily ensconced. (It took my kids a few beats to realize Mini Lili wasn’t a child made up to look adult, but in fact, a little person.)    

Presented on their distinct structures (including a huge mechanical hand on which the contortionists perform), the acts represent curios that jump to life inside the Seeker’s workshop. We loved how low the stage was set (a mere 24 inches), so we felt we were almost part of the workshop. And, in fact, performers frequently waded into the audience to make mischief or pluck “volunteers,” including one side-splitting act involving the oddball ringmaster who uncannily imitates a bird, a cat and a T-Rex while a hapless audience member sits on a sofa onstage (you’ll see).

There’s aerial bicycle, a hilarious invisible circus, contortion, rola bola, yo-yo artistry, acrobats, chair balancing, human pyramids and aerialists. My kids especially loved the “acro net” where performers outfitted as colorful underwater creatures use trampoline technique to create a slingshot effect, very nearly propelling their fellow performers to the very top of the big top.

My son got so caught up in the drama at one point he said “I almost can’t look!” while a strongman served as a human trapeze, flinging his partner in the air to turn somersault after somersault and, amazingly, somehow, catching her back. At times, I’m not sure my kids even stopped to blink — they were that transfixed.

Parents should know

Should you take the kids? Definitely, but probably not the youngest ones. The production’s overall theme is quirky and not driven by a strong narrative. The show runs two hours and 10 minutes, including a 25-minute intermission. The steampunk aesthetic can be a little dark. My third grader and sixth grader thought little kids might be put off by some of the faceless, insect-like robot creatures and Mini Lili. Figuring in the high ticket prices as well I wouldn’t bother bringing preschoolers. But for older kids? It could be the show of the year.

If you go ...

Where: Cirque du Soleil's Kurios is playing at Marymoor Park, Redmond.

When: Through March 22: Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, 8 p.m.; Friday, Saturday, 4:30 p.m. and 8 p.m.; Sunday, 1:30 p.m. and 5 p.m.

Tickets: Prices can fluctuate; Cirque uses demand-based pricing (meaning the earlier you buy, the lower price you’ll probably get). As of press time, the lowest prices are for Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday performances (from $38 and up/adults; $28 and up/kids ages 2-12; under age 2 free); Friday afternoon performances (from $42 and up/adults; $32 and up/kids); Saturday and Sunday (performances from $50 and up/adults; $40 and up/kids). Buy tickets online.

Tips: Parking is $15; there is no available street parking close by (credit cards OK but the cash line seemed to move quicker). Dress appropriately: It can be a long hoof from the parking area to the big top. While the big top is heated, you’ll face the elements when using the outdoor portable (flush) bathrooms. Pricey cotton candy, popcorn, soda, candy and hot dogs available, plus beer and wine for the adults.


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