You’ve seen them as clowns in Kooza or perhaps as blue-faced Na’vi in Toruk – The First Flight, now get ready to see the talented performers from Cirque Du Soleil in their latest show: KURIOS – The Cabinet of Curiosities. For the uninitiated, Cirque Du Soleil is the world’s largest touring circus company. It features a combination of circus styles from around the globe, with every show having its own unique theme and storyline.
KURIOS is set in the steampunk-inspired workshop of a quirky inventor in the 19th century, taking its audience members on a journey through a larger than life setting where literally anything is possible. Artjam managed to score an interview with the troupe’s Artistic Director, Rachel Lancaster, to discuss the Cirque’s latest offering.
- To start off: if you could describe your experience working on KURIOS with just three words, what would they be?
Enchanting, inspiring and breathtaking.
- KURIOS revolves around an alternate, yet familiar reality which is set in the 19th century. What inspired the 19th century steampunk aesthetic, and is there anything about this era and genre that fascinated you in particular?
The industrial revolution led to a period of rapid modernisation and development of the world. In KURIOS, there are many references to the improvements in travel and communication at the time which led to people seeing the world in a different light. For example, when people first took to the air in hot air balloons, it led to an expansion of their worldview, encouraging more collaborative efforts between previously far apart communities. In KURIOS, some of our characters are called “voyageurs” [“travelers”] in reference to these people, some of the first to embark on such adventures and experiences.
- This is Cirque du Soleil’s 35th production since 1984. What makes KURIOS different from past productions? Given that Kooza and Toruk were here in Singapore just a couple years back, what would you say is KURIOS’ unique charm that the audience can look forward to?
KURIOS creator Michel Laprise somehow made impossible ideas come to fruition in real life, achieving this with simple solutions to boot. Many stunts may seem complex, but are actually achieved through the use of simple devices – such as a piece of acrobatic equipment that rotates using a pin in the centre and a bicycle, and an artist not seen by the audience moving props and set pieces as though they were automated. One act in particular, AcroNet, achieves the longest air time for any act in Cirque du Soleil, making the most out of a normal trampoline.
- For our readers who are unfamiliar, what is it like working in a large live entertainment company like Cirque du Soleil? How different is it from your past experiences, be it as a performer or rehearsal director?
Our shows run in a similar way to most large-scale productions, relying on an incredibly cohesive team of experts in a variety of areas. The fact we tour with our own venue and set up our own mini village wherever we are is unique to the industry, and helps to maintain a sense of familiarity regardless wherever in the world we perform.
- What has been the most interesting or fulfilling experience for you throughout the whole process of devising this performance?
As the Artistic Director, my job is to take over at the point the performances begin. The thing I find most inspiring in this position is seeing the people I get to work with; a small melting pot of many nationalities and backgrounds. My goal is to understand how to provoke the best performance possible from these individuals, not only to work well together as a team, but also encouraging everyone to strive for perfection.
This is a constant challenge, and I feel lucky to be able to work with an extremely optimistic, committed bunch who understand what is needed for the best of performances. We’re just finishing an intense 18-month leg in Japan with a happy, healthy group — that is a huge achievement in itself, and I’m incredibly
- Could you provide us with a walkthrough of a typical day while working on KURIOS? What are some of the behind-the-scenes you can share about, from prepping for the show, to the show itself and the cooldown afterwards?
My day begins with a quick catch up on emails after breakfast — working with colleagues on multiple time zones means there are many overnight replies. I like to take care of this early in the day so I am not trapped with my computer when I am on site — I prefer to be available and accessible as I have a large team of 64 people.
On site we start with an artistic meeting with Coaching, Stage Management, Performance Medicine and Wardrobe to discuss the day’s lineup; which artists are performing which roles/cues in the show(s), and this is passed on to all departments immediately after to give sufficient time for preparation and changes.
The artists arrive at this time, taking anywhere between 60 to 90 minutes to prepare as they need to don their makeup and hairdos prior to their show warm-up. Each act has a different warm-up depending on when their performance occurs.
In addition, acrobatic or artistic training occurs on a daily basis. In Japan, this is often after the show, as we have very early shows in Japan, usually at 12:00 and 16:00. We are constantly working to integrate new artists, evolve acrobatic elements of our performances as well as refine the storytelling.
The end of my day is usually catching up with my colleagues in other locations. Montreal is 15 hours behind Japan so any work with our partners there for casting, contracts, artist training, and communication with my Senior Artistic Director needs to happen in the evening. Additionally, this is often where long term projects for the show are discussed.
- What are some of the biggest challenges that you have faced in terms of planning and execution, and how did you overcome them?
Opening the show in Tokyo was a big challenge. We had 10 shows per week and in addition, we had to move into the Fuji Dome, making use of a big top that is only used in Japan. The Fuji Dome has a different layout, requiring significant infrastructure changes to the show. We also had to add extra artists and back-up acts to ensure the stability of the show during an intense 18 months. KURIOS has some of the highest-level acrobatic acts in the world, and none of this would be achievable without all of the meticulous planning and preparation!
- Outside of performing for the Cirque, what are some things the team usually does upon arrival in a new country? What helps you settle down, given that the team is constantly on tour?
Everyone loves to explore, so usually our first days off are filled with everyone exploring the local area, be it art, theatre, food, sport or nature. For myself, I usually research places where I can take yoga, pilates or dance classes away from work. This is to maintain a sense of connection with the places that you’re in and you get to meet new people as well.
- Lastly, what kind of emotional journey do you think the audience will experience that makes KURIOS a must-watch production?
KURIOS will literally take your breath away. It allows people to get lost in the immersiveness of the production, in a magical world of incredible, sometimes improbable moments. I enjoy the way the tent can transform a small intimate moment into something that quite literally fills the big top, while the Chercheur [the Seeker], our main character, takes you on a journey of discovery.
What are you waiting for? Join the Seeker for an adventure beyond your wildest imagination and grab your tickets to Kurios – The Cabinet of Curiosities now!
P.S. To celebrate Artjam’s golden jubilee milestone, keep your eyes peeled for a special surprise coming on NTU CAC’s official Instagram page. Follow us on Instagram now @ntucac — trust us, you wouldn’t want to miss out on this!
Written by Terisha Tan and Rachel Bong