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One for Cirque cynics and fans alike.

Review: CIRQUE DU SOLEIL: KURIOS, CABINET OF CURIOSITIES, Royal Albert Hall There are generally two kinds of audiences at Cirque du Soleil shows. The first kind is usually by far the majority: excited, expectant, often slack-jawed at the amazing feats and ready to clap at any opportunity. Then there's the rest: hesitant chin-rubbers who still hold out hope despite seeing one too many over-hyped shows from this billion-dollar company, non-plussed by the standard circus tropes rolled out in the show-specific costumes or staging but quite ready to rave about whatever makes this production genuinely special. Hello, my name is Franco and I'm a Cirque cynic.

You don't have to live in a big top to know the general gist of what to expect: contortion, juggling, acrobalance and aerial are just some of the aspects of every show rolled out by this Montreal-based company. It's what those in the pews expect, it's what they like and, time after time, it's what they get.

Cirque had a rough time at the start of the pandemic, laying off around 95% of its staff in March 2020. Having said that, with its stunning stats, deep pockets, thousands of cast and crew and extensive experience, this is one circus company that should (and sometimes does) put on a spectacle that will burn visual and emotional memories deep into our brains.

Which brings us to Kurios: Cabinet Of Curiosities. It comes with the usual Cirque-style fantasy backstory about a nineteenth "seeker" exploring a hidden world of mystical magic and steampunk-inspired machinery. A live band gives us songs heavy on the folk and jazz as wave after wave of acrobats perform from the ground or mid-air. The props range from outsized Heath Robinson-style contraptions to a 750-pound metal hand wheeled out as a base for a nifty contortion routine. Two bulbous robots act as the seeker's assistant roving around the thrust stage as he ventures deeper into this tangible fever-dream of an experience. A man struts around with a large bathysphere strapped to his front before revealing that the device contains another performer within. Say what you like but, with Kurios, you cannot fault the commitment to this kooky vision.

Kurios has a pattern of giving standard ground-based acts an aerial twist, a simple technique that pays dividends in the cavernous Royal Albert Hall. Volodymyr Klavdich acts as a base in a Russian cradle for Ekaterina Evdokimova as she is thrown over and over into the air, the difference here being that Klavdich is also mid-air and is able to propel his partner above and below him. Similarly, juggler Louis-Philippe Jodoin's club throwing turn is giving a literal lift as he is hoisted above the audience. Elsewhere, a tricky balancing act on a tower of cylinders is performed on a platform sees the action shifted from the stage to several metres over the audience.

The clowning is, as always for me, a mixed bunch. I revelled in the simple joys of Facundo Giminez's Invisible Circus. The way he brought to life a motley crew of unseen acrobats and a decidedly less-than-tame lion is sheer child-like magic. Also child-like, but in a far more juvenile way, is a separate scene where a female audience member is brought up on stage to be wooed through a series of mimed animalistic impressions. It rarely rises above the trite and is Kurios' main low point.

Of the standard aerial acts, few held any surprises. Flying through the air using straps, "Siamese twins" Roman and Vitali Tamanov are fluid, graceful and glamorous. Anne Weissbecker uses a bicycle frame in place of a trapeze; while it lacked the heart-stopping chutzpah of Kooza's high wire bicycle act, seeing her ride the bike right side up and then upside down is cute as hell.

Two parts of Kurios stand out as real highlights and both directly relate to its theatrical framing of a stranger in strange lands. Creating a tower of chairs as a platform, even amid a dinner party of seated folk, is hardly breaking creative boundaries but Andrii Bondarenko takes it to a new dimension. As he reaches the top, we follow his line of sight as looks up to see his scene mirrored above him: anchored to the ceiling is a group of upside-down acrobats and someone else building a chair tower. This highly entertaining spin makes full use of the venue's immense height to bring home the artistry, skill and danger involved here.

Flipping the script from vertical to horizontal, a massive net is opened up across the stage after the interval. A seven-strong troupe in sou'westers strip off to give us the kind of hijinks usually only seen when flying off teeterboards. Once the clothing comes off, the game is on and they all adeptly use this broad landscape to create some jaw-dropping aerial feats.

Cirque goes above and beyond for Kurios in terms of props and costumes and props (thanks to Stephane Roy and Phillipe Guillote respectively) but they are the cherry on top of the ballistic magic which complements the show's commendable dramatic ballast. Whether you are a Cirque cynic or someone more open-minded, there is plenty to get your teeth into here.

Cirque du Soleil: Kurios continues at the Royal Albert Hall until 5 March.

Photo credit: Andy Paradise

Read our interview with Kurios' artistic director Rachel Lancaster.

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