pg 7 cirque color

Courtesy of Cirque du Soleil

November 25, 2018

The Magic of Cirque du Soleil

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For the first time, Cirque du Soleil in Cinema brought their live show, KURIOS- Cabinet of Curiosities, to moviegoers. The special, one-night-only cinematic experience plunged viewers into the fantastical world of the show in a far more intimate way than a live performance. However, this same proximity also lessened some the show’s overall impact.

Last summer, I went to see Cirque du Soleil’s Crystal, their first show to be set on ice. From 14 rows back, some of the details of each character were lost; their broad movements conveyed their emotions instead of their faces, and the costumes appeared distinct, but not as intricate as they must have been. In scope, KURIOS in cinema was far more detailed of a production, featuring steampunk-inspired costumes and sets, and the close eye of the camera captured it all, from the stylized makeup on the performers’ faces to the patterns on their costumes. In many instances, this proximity of the camera to the performers was beneficial, particularly in some of the smaller scale acts, such as the yo-yo act and the hand puppetry, which focus on extremely small objects. But in the case of some of the larger acts, particularly when many performers were on stage at once, the inability of the camera to completely simulate a live audience experience hindered the understanding of the whole of the performance. Due to the camera’s focus on only a few of the performers at any given time, the actions of those outside the frame of the camera were lost and with them, a complete picture of the actual performance.

However, the camera also revealed many details that a live audience member would be unable to see. Throughout the film, I was struck by the pure enthusiasm of the performers. They smiled at particularly loud reactions from the audience and winked into the camera. The minutiae of their expressions brought their characters to life just as much as their acrobatic skill. The design elements of the show were also more obvious. The costumes, sets and makeup were brought into extraordinary detail: the seams and rivets painted onto Mr. Microcosmos’s face, the brightly-colored spots and frills that made up the contortionists’ bodysuits, and the intricately detailed floor of the stage. This level of detail, however, also led the camera to expose a bit of the practicality behind the magic of the show, revealing safety wires and marks that lessened the sense of danger in the acts, but this was largely a result of the camera’s ability to open new perspectives to the audience. Particularly striking was the shot in which the performer held the camera as he rose and fell on the trampoline. With this perspective, the audience could see and feel the performance in a visceral manner. The proximity and the fluidity with which the camera moved throughout the film also served to bring the audience onto the stage with the performers, creating a strong sense of intimacy between the viewer and the performers.

While the overall comprehension of the show was diminished by the camera’s limitations, the feelings it inspired in the audience were not. The sheer physicality of the acts was awe-inspiring, especially the rola bola, which stacked boards and balls atop each other while the performer balanced on the very top. This would be difficult enough to do on a level surface; KURIOS took it a step further by situating the performer on a swing. The contortionists were incredibly discomforting and fascinating, twisting their bodies in ways that would seem to be impossible. Their identical costumes made it even harder to tell where one body ended and the other began, forming them into one organism. The comic act had the whole theater laughing and the aerialists were breathtaking in their speed, strength and defiance of gravity.

Overall, the power of a Cirque du Soleil performance made it through the change in medium. Leaving the theater, I felt just as I had when I left the arena after watching Crystal: inspired. The world of KURIOS challenged itself, invented itself. The music and movements of the performers matched perfectly, pulling you into the rhythm of the world that exists at the fringes of the imagination and invention. Though not as completely immersive as a live performance, KURIOS in cinema still managed to cast a spell.

Jessica Lussier is a sophomore in the college of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at jll335@cornell.edu.