Kurios: Cabinet of Curiosities: nerve, discipline and sacrifice
For many, the Cirque du Soleil conjures up images of grand stage designs with acrobatic human wonders. Mysterious music and guffaws from the audience reverberate around the tent as these wonderful performers have people gripping the edge of their seats.
Having originated in Québec, Canada, this entertainment company is perhaps the largest and best-known theatrical producer in the world. The amount of detail and thought that go into each performance is mind-boggling, and the latest production — Kurios: Cabinet of Curiosities — is no different.
The Canadian spoke to Michel Laprise, writer and director of Kurios, and Chantal Tremblay, director of creation, about the show and its reception in Japan.
“First of all, we wanted to make a show that would make people feel a lot of joy and realize that everything is possible. We wanted to make something that was optimistic. That’s why we chose the second half of the 19th century, when there was a lot of creativity,” Laprise said.
The inventions of the time include the light bulb, locomotive, telephone and telegraph, all of which have a place on the set in some form.
“Within those 50 years, there was the invention of the gramophone; it was the first way to make [exactly the same] music travel from city to city, and the first way to make human voices and instruments immortal,” Laprise added. This was amplified in the music, and the set’s sepia hues.
“I think that’s the strength of the show, that unusual visual, the idea, theme, color, music — the sound. I think it was the combination of all those things being connected which makes it special,” Tremblay added.
We wanted to make a show that would make people feel a lot of joy and realize that everything is possible.
The eccentric characters were a result of trial and error, with many using their own experiences from everyday life to help shape their respective roles. Tremblay and Laprise also emphasized that they wanted to take note of the opinions of both old and new members of the troupe.
“The old-timers were ready to challenge themselves and they knew how things worked so they could push themselves a little bit further. But they could also coach the newcomers a bit,” Laprise said.
When asked what the most difficult acts were, both Laprise and Tremblay named the upside down world, an entertaining and perplexing display of nerve, in a dinner party setting.
“Putting the act together technically, that was the hardest part. Inverting the table was difficult because it took a lot of trying and testing,” Tremblay said. “Management questioned the act a lot because, when we started to show it to upper management, it was not ready — we needed until the end to make it ready.”
The acro net act, which involved a handmade trampoline and eight underwater creatures, was another challenging act, and something that had not been done before. “The difference between those two acts and everything else — if they didn’t work technically, we wouldn’t have an act,” Tremblay said.
The enormity of each act also comes through in the amount of training required. For the upside down world, this meant special training to test how long a human could function upside down.
“It’s not just for one night, it has to work 10 shows a week,” Laprise said. “We take two years to create a show, but these artists have sometimes trained for years — the contortionists began learning at the age of five. So it’s the result of years of discipline, it’s a lifestyle, it’s a lot of sacrifice for them.”
For Laprise, Japan was always on his mind while writing the show. “We are big fans of Japan, there is something that just speaks to our soul. When I was writing, I remember thinking ‘Okay, one day the show will go to Japan,’” he said.
This was confirmed at a performance in Montréal, Québec where Laprise recalls meeting a Japanese member of the audience who said the show would be loved in Japan. After that it was all about preparation.
While many Cirque du Soleil performances are in the grand venues of Las Vegas, London and Paris, in Japan, choosing the big top was a significant decision.
“We realized it’s beautiful. To have a tent that travels like that, it’s very magical,” Laprise said.
“The way they have done the infrastructure, it’s really top of the game and there is such a beautiful friendship between the two companies because we’ve been doing that for many years. It’s perfect. We’re a big family now and we even did a big Shinto ritual before opening,” he added.
Japanese audiences are usually quiet and do not applaud during the shows Laprise said. But regarding which acts had the best reception, he noted no major difference compared with elsewhere in the world.
“It’s the same acts actually, humans, regard-less of their culture, they acknowledge, they know when another human is doing something demanding taking a risk artistically. They can feel when we went out of our way to invent something new.”
A lot of the artistic risk taken in new shows came about as a result of marketing analysis, which revealed that some people thought Cirque du Soleil was becoming predictable. So, aside from making adjustments to the budget to allow for spending on new and innovative things, Laprise also emphasized remembering what Cirque du Soleil was all about in the first place.
“To me, a big inspiration for Kurios was that this company was born in the street. When you are a street performer that’s the only type of performance where the audience pays after they have seen the show,” Laprise said. “When you perform in the street, it has to be generous; it’s for the people’s pleasure.”
When it comes to the business side of theatre, even given the financial success of Cirque du Soleil, Laprise emphasized that, “The show has to be first; the business is there to serve the show.”
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