Big Top with a twist

Cirque du Soleil's new show, Kurios - Cabinet of Curiosities, has whimsical elements in its death-defying acrobatics as well as traditional acts

The circus is back in town next month with the Singapore debut of Cirque du Soleil's whimsical steampunk-themed Kurios - Cabinet of Curiosities.

At noon today, a white-and-grey 20m-high Big Top rises in Bayfront Avenue, next to Marina Bay Sands.

The site set-up can accommodate more than 2,400 people. It also houses rehearsal and hospitality tents, offices and a kitchen.

The show premiered in 2014 in Montreal, Canada. It runs here from July 5 to Aug 4 and tickets (from $95 via Sistic) are selling fast. It is written and directed by Mr Michel Laprise, who has been with the Quebec-based Cirque du Soleil since 2000.

The Kurios story is about a scientist, known as The Seeker, who is convinced there is an invisible world in his larger-than-life cabinet. Out of this cabinet steps a cast of 47 artists from 17 countries, including world-class gymnasts, acrobats, hand-puppeteers and other intriguing characters.

The story - complemented by an upbeat jazz and electro swing soundtrack - is set in the latter half of the 19th century, and celebrates the advancements of science in an imaginary and parallel universe where time gets suspended.

  • BOOK IT /KURIOS - CABINET OF CURIOSITIES

  • WHERE: Big Top at Bayfront Avenue, beside Marina Bay Sands

    WHEN: July 5 to Aug 4, 8pm (Tuesdays to Fridays), 4.30 and 8pm (Saturdays), 1.30 and 5pm (Sundays) 

    ADMISSION: From $95 from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to sistic.com.sg)

Another new feature, should the weather here permit, will see three artists climb the Big Top to greet guests before the show starts. Guests can also get a unique view of the crowd before the show starts - via a rope bridge on the stage.

Kurios is Cirque du Soleil's 35th production and it is its sixth Big Top show to be staged in Singapore, after Saltimbanco (2000), Alegria (2002), Quidam (2005), Totem (2015) and Kooza (2017).

Ahead of Kurios' opening here, The Straits Times spoke to some cast and crew members last month in Sendai, the last stop in Japan, where Kurios had an 18-month run.

MORE THAN 400 PROPS

Kurios features 426 props, the most made for any Cirque du Soleil production.

Large set-pieces include a 340kg steampunk-inspired mechanical hand made of fibreglass and a hot-air balloon with a built-in blower system in the Theatre Of Hands act. The hot-air balloon serves as a projection screen for hand puppetry.

One of the most unusual pieces is the Acro Net. It covers the entire stage and took years to design in order to lift acrobats dressed as underwater creatures 12m high in the Big Top.

Kurios artistic director Rachel Lancaster, 45, says: "It is an evolution over time. From an older show, the designers realised that by putting more tension on a long and narrow safety net, it could be used for tumbling.

"They then started wondering what could be done if the net was made bigger. If one person jumps on the net, nothing happens. It requires the work of a full team to achieve the heights and rebounds.

"We invest years into such ideas so that we always have new things when we return."

Mr Mathieu Hubener, the main Acro Net acrobat who also plays the character of Mr Microcosmos, adds: "Everyone thinks the net is a trampoline but it doesn't act like one. It was a big and challenging process to adapt to the slow bounce of the net and work as a team."

Everything we do has a twist or surprise element. And our Big Top space maintains an incredible intimacy to not lose the small moments as well as audience interaction.

MS RACHEL LANCASTER, artistic director of Kurios - Cabinet of Curiosities

THOUSANDS OF COSTUMES

Kurios also has the most costumes for a Cirque du Soleil show.

Ms Perrine Chassagne, 30, assistant head of wardrobe, manages 6,000 costume pieces, which include everything from hats that blow "smoke" like chimneys to multiple moustache and eyebrow sets for each performer.

The costume for Nico the Accordion Man, for example, takes three weeks to make, with one week just devoted to stitching it by hand.

It is made of a type of carton and is "extremely fragile", says Ms Chassagne.

Another challenging piece to create is the 20kg costume for the pot-bellied Mr Microcosmos, who carries another character - the 1m-tall Mini Lili in his belly. It took 250 hours to build the belly, which is fitted with ventilation and lights as well.

Ms Rima Hadchiti, who plays Mini Lili, says: "It can be quite a confined space. When we started, it was quite claustrophobic. When Mr Microcosmos is moving, I cannot see, I can only feel the movement. So I treat it like a dance and we move as one."

Ms Lancaster adds: "This is where costume and set design is developed with the character.

"The rigging and acrobatic team have to find a way for Mini Lili to be inside, while Mr Microcosmos moves with that extra weight and not injure her or himself."

Just like how the Acro Net was developed, the costumes have evolved over the years.

For Klara the Telegraph of the Invisible, her antenna skirt made of fibreglass hula hoop-like rings - where she twirls and points her skirt in various directions to receive invisible electromagnetic waves - used to be made of wood.

Ms Chassagne says: "Now, with fibreglass, her skirt is much lighter. We also minimise the use of too many fabrics because we have to spend hours ironing the costumes. If they are not ironed properly, the creases are very obvious when the stage lights hit the costume.

"We make sure everything looks easy to wear, is pretty to look at, but also safe and comfortable for the actors."

TRADITIONAL ACTS WITH A TWIST

Cirque du Soleil has put a spin on some of its classic acts.

The Upside Down World is no ordinary chair-balancing performance, and the Rola Bola takes the stunt of balancing cylinders and planks to, quite literally, thrilling new heights.

While Kurios dishes out the larger-than-life performances that one has come to expect from the acclaimed theatre troupe, the show also zooms in on the minute details.

The Invisible Circus, for example, draws on the audience's imagination to join the invisible "cast" with visual and sound effects.

Ms Lancaster says: "Even though the technology is available and can be incorporated into the acts, we still return to human performance - that is the essence of circus and acrobatics.

"We're not the world's first chair act, but everything we do has a twist or surprise element. And our Big Top space maintains an incredible intimacy to not lose the small moments as well as audience interaction."

• The writer's trip was sponsored by Cirque du Soleil.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 15, 2019, with the headline 'Big Top with a twist'. Print Edition | Subscribe