Cirque du Soleil is now the largest theatrical producer in the world; the biggest big top ever. Our theater critics Jim Farmer and Andrew Alexander checked out the entertainment giant’s latest show Kurios, which premiered in Montreal in 2014, on its opening night in Atlanta. The show runs at Atlantic Station through May 17.
Andrew Alexander: Hi, Jim. Last night we both went to the new Cirque show. The general buzz about this one is that it’s a bit of a reboot for the company and that that’s a good thing, that the show feels a little fresher than the Cirque formula has for a while. What were your thoughts? Do you agree with that assessment?
Jim Farmer: Hi, Andrew. I liked it. I am not a rabid Cirque person. I don’t visit other cities to see their shows. I don’t collect Cirque lunch boxes or Varekai thermal underwear like folks I know. But I do enjoy it — and this one is worth the trip. It’s the best Cirque I have seen since Ovo. And you?
Alexander: Wow. You know some intense people. I missed Ovo, but some others I’ve seen in recent years were pretty tired. I hate crowds, so the last time I went I was all, “I will never go to one of these again.” But the preview buzz about this one made me, well, curious, so I decided to give it a shot. Cirque has built its reputation on elaborate acrobatic acts and inventive, freaky design.
And I think that’s something that may have been missing from recent Cirque offerings: an element of genuine weirdness that’s been put back in. I guess it’s always kind of a weird show, but this one raises the ante a bit. It wasn’t perfect from beginning to end, far from it, but there’s a level of inventiveness and idiosyncrasy that made it more fun and trippy to watch this time. The acts that are meant to amaze and surprise genuinely do amaze and surprise. Such moments may not come non-stop, but yeesh, at least they’re there! Which acts stand out as the most memorable and interesting to you?
Farmer: Well let me say, for a nanosecond as it began, I thought Cirque was going in something of a new direction. But then I realized that … a Cirque show is a Cirque show. There’s the same degree of prestige and pretense. The same Enya-esque music, and the songstress who stands around warbling while looking proud and worried. And the perky clown who has had about 19 cups of coffee too many. What redeems it, for me, are the acts. I was crazy about Acro Net, in which a group of performers jump on a trampoline, all over and around each other, until they are leaping like frogs towards the ceiling. And the closer, Banquine, in which 13 artists form human pyramids and literally hop from one pyramid to the other, is pretty amazing as these men and women somersault all across the stage. What were your faves?
Alexander: You’re right about the formula, and it’s worth noting that like a lot of formulas, when done right it actually works. The acrobatics paired with the Enya score (this particular singer doesn’t warble, she has a very fine voice) and that peculiar mash-up of prestige and junk actually all combine to make a decent show that people want to see. The acrobatics were great, and visually, the costumes and set pieces were more inventive and interesting than in recent years.
Some of the visual elements — I don’t want to specifically describe them, spoilers and all that — were genuinely impressive and surprising and delightful, which I can’t say unequivocally of other recent Cirque shows. I’m still thinking about Antanina Satsura, who played the character Mini Lili in the show. Which brings up another point: the dreamlike, loose “story” that Cirque shows are meant to evoke is actually itself more interesting than of late. So the acrobatic acts and design elements are getting a “thumbs up” from us, it sounds like. Every Cirque show always includes clowning in between the acrobatics. Sometimes it’s fun, sometimes it feels like filler, sometimes it can be excruciating. Thoughts on this one?
Farmer: Let me say, I do enjoy the productions, but I do think the formula could use a jolt. The clown usually makes me lose my dinner, but I did love this clown! In Comic Act, a young man brings a date home but their world is soon interrupted by his parrot, a Tyrannosaurus Rex and — most vividly — his cat. It’s expertly performed by actor Facundo Gimenez and is quite funny. I also really enjoyed Rola Bola, featuring an aviator, a collection of his cylinders and planks and a balancing act. It’s very inventive.
From a design aspect, this production looks wonderful. I love the world artistic director Bruno Darmagnac has created. The visuals impressed me. It’s Cirque meets George Méliès meets Metropolis meets American Horror Story Freak Show. I think for me, what I’ve found is that Cirque is a sensory show. I don’t pretend to understand a lick of it (what the hell is the character of Klara the Telegraph of the Invisible and her hula hoop skirt doing?) but it delivers the goods. But here’s a question — as working critics, we saw the show for free. Is this a production that is worth parting with a lot of money for, especially if you bring a family? That can really add up!
Alexander: I wonder. I’m broke and cheap, so this rates as a serious question in my book. Many people can throw their money around and think nothing of buying a bunch of Cirque tickets for a big group of family and friends. If this describes you, then, yes, obviously, Kurios is a good one, you should go. And send a little cash my way while you’re at it. What are ticket prices to this thing anyway? It’s not an inexpensive outing, this I know.
Farmer: Regular tickets start at $35 and I imagine VIP tickets go up from there. I do think this is a really unique outing for a family, assuming they can afford it. It’s a true event, and if Cirque duplicates the atmosphere they create on opening night for an entire run, I say, “Sure.” It comes to town only so often, and this one is a lot more worth the money than others I have seen.
Alexander: I’m cheap. Family of five times 35 is coming up on $200. And on top of that, there’s parking, and everyone will want a hat and popcorn and all the rest. It could easily get into the $300 territory and well into $500 and beyond. Ouch. There are a lot of fun things I’d rather spend 500 bucks on for me and mine than a Cirque show. But if it’s ever seemed worth it to you before, this one will, as well, I think.
Farmer: I agree! Okay, I must say, Andrew, that one of my favorite parts of the evening had nothing to do with the production. I was sitting in the row behind you, and an audience member with some sort of bionic, javelin-hurling limb right next to you threw his arm out to record the show. And he did it for a while. You had more restraint than I would have — I would have bitch-slapped him OTP. Just as I was about to lose it, a young woman appeared and cautioned him to stop what he was doing. That doesn’t happen enough in Atlanta in my opinion. This gentleman’s act was rude to others and it is illegal. Anyway, I was rather smitten by the usher. If I were straight and unmarried, I might have proposed. But seriously, though, can we hire her to work at other theaters and do this?
Alexander: You might want to rethink that marriage proposal. Your lovely fiancée was a Cirque employee who didn’t ask him to turn off his phone or to put it away, just to hold it closer to his body. She was probably just doing as she was instructed and, if so, such a policy is — I imagine — a concession by organizers that they cannot fight this anymore, and that whatever he was going to do with that shoddy cell phone video would ultimately help them more than harm them.
The official Cirque policy is that devices aren’t allowed during the show, but what they tell ushers to do when audience members turn them on is another matter. He was far from the only person tweeting and texting and Vining and Instagramming and so on throughout. As you put it, “bitch-slapping” such behavior is tempting, but in the current cultural climate, I’m extremely wary of initiating any interaction which could become confrontational. I imagine others may feel the same since no one nearby said anything to him either. And in the end, it’s not our responsibility to police other members of the audience. If I’d paid for tickets, or if it were “The Cherry Orchard” or something, I might have felt differently, but under the circumstances, it hardly seemed worth the bother or risk. Anyway, that employee should have told him point-blank that it wasn’t allowed. She may still be marriage material, but the woman of my dreams would have told him to turn it off and put it away.
Farmer: Sigh — a fantasy ruined. I will rescind the proposal, but I do think this is an issue we can continue in the future. So my final thumb is up for seeing this. You?
Alexander: This subject is definitely worth discussing more. As for this show: My thumb is up, with the other fingers clutched tightly around a dollar bill.