Behind-the-Scenes with Kurios by Cirque du Soleil
EAST BOSTON – Kurios: Cabinet of Curiosities opened Thursday at Suffolk Downs, and I joined some of the artists and team from Cirque du Soleil to go behind-the-scenes look before the premiere. The production transports audiences to an alternate reality that is ostensibly a familiar past, bringing together creativity and wonder of no bounds.
It was to be my first Cirque experience, and I was intrigued at the opportunity to glimpse inside their Cabinet of Curiosities. Publicist Amélie Robitaille, who travels with the production, greeted me as I entered the staff lot, and graciously guided me into the first of three tents that constitute the Cirque big top setup.
I was immediately surrounded by activity inside the artistic tent with performers of varied genres, body types, and backgrounds and crew members engaged in preparations for the evening’s full dress rehearsal and premiere the following evening.
Artists were balancing, juggling, and tossing one another into the air. Several were exercising with weights and doing cardio, stretching, and working with the two physical therapists. Many were in the middle of their daily training or practicing new or advanced tricks, some of which could be seen during the show.
The air was abuzz with sounds with multiple languages spoken by the diverse cast and crew typical of the Cirque crowd according to Amélie. I sat down in an area backstage with couches and a live screen of the big to stage where the artists will await their cues during the live shows.
I was now awaiting my cue for my first interview with Dawn Wilson, Artistic Assistant whose primary job is to keep the production up to the standard set by its creators. She also runs rehearsals, and predominantly remains character-focused rather than working on the acrobatic components that are handled by choreographers. She is also in charge of an array of logistical, operational, and administrative components that seemed to involve anything and everything.
Dawn was still on her walkie when she arrived, working out an issue with someone in the production, but the 18-year Cirque veteran was warm and welcoming as she launched into our discussion about the eccentric side to this production.
“I can honestly say Kurios is different to the other shows,” she began. “It is a kind of different genre than other Cirque du Soleil shows which are beautiful and fabulous, but it really is a different direction.”
The retro-futuristic tone draws from the later 1800’s and early 1900’s, offering something audiences can identify, but also highly exaggerating the steampunk style of that era into something fresh and new.
Kurios: Cabinet of Curiosities tells the story of a chercheur, a French word for “seeker”. He is an inventor in a laboratory during an exciting period of history where machines were changing the way we lived, some of which were developed solely in the pursuit of creativity and invention.
“The Seeker is trying to get to a parallel world where these ideas come from, where your creativity comes from,” Dawn explained. “He is trying to get to that world to be bigger in his ideas, so the first half of the show is him trying to invent this machine that will take him there.”
When the Seeker opens the portal, a cast of characters from that world enter his own, disrupting and entertaining and opening up his mind to new and impossible ideas.
“It’s a really familiar story, but the way it’s presented by Cirque with the elaborate costumes, with the acrobats, and with the genre that we’re in, it’s something quite different from the others,” Dawn declared proudly.
“They’ve taken these acrobatic acts, and completely give them a whole new twist,” Dawn said. “It’s a very surprising element in the show. The acrobatic acts have quite a surprise twist, and people won’t see it coming.”
The 46-member cast comes from all circus and acrobatic disciplines from juggling to chair balancing to contortion that are further enhanced by the production’s setting. The costumes, lighting, and general vibe of the show is most definitely like that of the era according to Dawn.
“It’s hard work. We do not have a lot of huge special effects in the show because the creator wanted it to be familiar where everything was mechanical. We have things that are operated by artists inside them, things that pedal. It’s all very mechanical and very steampunk.”
She ultimately hopes that audiences leave in disbelief with their own brewing determination to take on the impossible in their own lives.
“We want them to walk away inspired. It’s all about invention, curiosity, and the center figure of the show is all about exploring his creativeness and curiosity himself. We really want people to do the same,” Dawn ended.
While I awaited my next interview and entrance into the main stage area, Amélie returned with one final comment from Dawn. She explained that she forgot to mention she was Irish if I hadn’t already figured it out from her accent. She heard Boston was the one city where she should mention it.
My journey into this Kurios world felt as if it had now officially launched, and I was already excited as Amélie guided me out of the artistic tent. We entered a tunnel that led us backstage under the big top where I first encountered the wonderful and weird world Dawn had just described.
Many large-scale props, scenery pieces, costumes and show components seemed old yet new, familiar yet foreign and there seemed to be machines and trinkets everywhere I looked.
It was then I realized how much of a logistical nightmare it must actually be to put together a production of this magnitude. With more than 750 shows under their belt in two years, it’s no wonder the 130-person team is able to unpack 65 trailers, setup and rehearse in just six days before launching the production, and tear it all back down in two days before they’re off to their next locale.
As I entered the auditorium area, I was surprised how a 2,500-seat theatre could feel so intimate yet grand. Every member of the audience is just 50 feet from the stage, so there is truly no bad seat in the house.
I sat and watched as the Kurios team continued rehearsals. While performers were not in costume, it certainly allowed me to imagine how the Kurios characters come to life. After watching several run-throughs of her act, I had the opportunity to sit down with cast member Anne Weissbecker, an aerial bicycle artist. It’s an occupation my pre-interview research determined was quite unique.
After training in her home country of France as a child, Anne came to North America where she studied at the National Circus School in Montreal. She spent some time working as an independent act, but eventually found herself in Las Vegas performing for Cirque in their Beatles tribute show.
After five years and more than 2,000 performances including a long stint as Lucy in the Sky, Anne decided it was time for a change. She joined the creation of Kurios and has toured with the production since its debut in 2014.
“I knew it would be a new apparatus, but I didn’t know it would be a bicycle so it was a surprise when I got to Montreal,” Anne explained. The incorporation of the apparatus into an aerial circus act had never been done which was definitely challenging as no movements existed when it came to an performance of this nature.
“You have to create movement. You get inspiration from hoop, trapeze, and rope moves, but you have to find a way to do it on a bicycle,” she said. “And it is most definitely a real bicycle. It’s not made for acrobatics in the air. Everything is moving, everything is turning, and it’s quite a challenge.”
Anne agreed with Dawn that Kurios is a different show from others in the Cirque du Soleil world, and her flying bicycle routine is a fine example. Both of these creatives undoubtedly are experienced in this universe, and their extroverted excitement about this particular production further piqued my interest.
“I think each show tries to have its own identity, so it’s always different,” Anne detailed. “This one has a very, very strong identity. It’s a universe. It’s also a timeline. It’s Victorian and Steampunk.”
“Some people feel so very close to the show because there’s a lot of elements from normal life, so I think they feel a link between the acrobats and themselves. It’s really a fun show and people get very surprised and impressed and I just hope they can dream about it a few more moments after the show.”
Our Complete Coverage
- a Behind-the-Scenes narrative
- a review of the Boston premiere
- a full Q&A session with creatives
- an incredible photo gallery
Tickets and General Information
When? Thurs. May 26, 2016 through July 10, 2016 with performances with performances Monday through Friday at 8PM, Saturday at 4:30PM and 8:00PM, and Sunday at 1:30PM and 5:00PM
Where? Suffolk Downs, 525 William F. McClellan Highway, East Boston, MA
Cost? Tickets begin at $35 with a variety of packages are available. Parking is an additional $20 cash or credit on site