'Kurios: Cabinet of Curiosities' runs Tuesday–Sunday through Jan. 18 at AT&T Park, in San Francisco. Show times vary. $45–$270. 800.450.1480.
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HIGH CHAIR ACT Cirque du Soleil's new show is its 35th in 30 years.
Have you ever nodded off at a show, started to dream, then awakened, uncertain if you were still dreaming or not? That's what the new Cirque du Soleil show feels like. A gleaming steam-punk fantasia, KURIOS: Cabinet of Curiosities feels like a dream so impossible and strange you could not possibly experience it with waking eyes.
And yet there it is in front of us.
KURIOS, staged inside a sprawling big-top tent at AT&T Park, is the 35th Cirque du Soleil show in the Montreal-based company's 30-year history. With a cast of over 45 performers from 13 different countries, KURIOS is intimate in its staging—a compact set puts particular focus on the performers—while boundless in its fantastical imagery, easily the best new Cirque show in years.
As usual, the "plot" is vague. Inside a laboratory-like cabinet, the Seeker (Anton Valen) has surrounded himself with mechanical creations. When he makes contact with the alternate world known as Kuriostan, its denizens enter his world through the cabinet, and draw him into a kind of ongoing carnival-sideshow of increasingly outrageous visions, all with a touch of Jules Verne retro-futurism, a blast of Mary Shelley electricity and a touch of Alice in Wonderland whimsy.
There's an array of dazzlingly designed mechanisms: an enormous mechanical hand, a giant music box, a steam engine, a net that stretches across the stage (with human-hybrid sea creatures and cloud people floating above and below it). A woman rides a bicycle upside down, Siamese twins come together and apart in the air, a mechanical man reveals a tiny woman having tea inside his copper-kettle belly.
Most spectacular and dreamlike of all is an astonishing tea-party sequence, in which one of the guests (acrobat Andrii Bondarenko) begins to stack chairs higher and higher on top of the table, suddenly aware that an identical copy of the tea party, from table to guests to chair stacker, is hanging suspended (and upside down) from the top of the tent. As Bondarenko builds and climbs his tower, his double somehow "builds" his own "stack" of chairs, in a breathtaking and beautiful piece of circus theater.
KURIOS does more than merely dazzle and entertain. It inspires its audiences to imagine taking impossible risks, to live and to dream without limit.