Michel Laprise, writer and director of Cirque du Soleil’s new show and artistic director for Madonna’s Super Bowl halftime show in 2012 and MDNA Tour, was forever changed as a boy in Quebec after he stole a glimpse of something new and wonderful through a flap in a circus tent.
It was 1989. Cirque du Soleil was also in its childhood, formed just five years earlier by a colorful band of Canadian performers who roamed the streets of a small Quebec City town to juggle, dance, breathe fire, play music and walk on stilts. Laprise and his dad were in the parking lot that housed the small Cirque tent (which later evolved into the familiar blue and gold “chapiteau”) when Laprise heard the music.
“I didn’t know the expression, ‘world beat,’ he said. “But to me, it was mesmerizing, and I followed it like the [Pied] Piper legend, and I reached the big top.”
There were no fences blocking his access. He saw no security — unlike today; Cirque has grown into a giant that employs 4,000 worldwide, including 1,300 artists. “They probably could not afford fences and I was able to reach the canvas,” Laprise said.
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The boy lifted the flap.
“What I saw profoundly touched me. ‘Wow! It is possible to have this diversity of color and bodies and ways to move.’ And the music is a big, important thing,” Laprise said. “The entrance to my heart was through the music, and then the visuals came in, and I cried. It was like a miracle, and I turned to my dad: ‘I want to see that show, like tonight!’ We bought tickets, and it was very emotional for me. I was raised in a city where everybody was the same, very conventional. To see the possibility of diversity and acceptance was a big thing for me.” He remembers thinking: “Wow — life is better than suburban reality.”
The thousands of South Floridians who will see “Kurios” at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens —— yes, Madonna has seen it, too, and she sent Laprise a “beautiful bouquet” afterward — are the beneficiaries of his artistic awakening. The six-week run opens Saturday and runs through Jan. 29.
“When I started to create ‘Kurios’ I wanted to create that intense emotion for people,” Laprise said. “I said to the creative team that this is more than a show. We were told by our audiences the last two or three Cirque shows were starting to become predictable.”
Instead, “Kurios,” the 35th Cirque show, alters its whimsical look a bit and ditches the creepy clowns. Subtitled “Cabinet of Curiosities,” the action revolves around a Seeker who is convinced that within a larger-than-life curio cabinet exists a hidden, invisible world filled with benevolent characters — a place where the craziest ideas and grandest of dreams await and are welcomed.
Like previous Cirque shows, the “Kurios” cast of 46 artists from 15 different countries includes acrobats and contortionists. But for the first time, weather permitting, a welcoming act of three artists will climb atop the big top to play music and act and engage the crowds as they file inside the Chapiteau.
“We’re creating a world that when they get into the Chapiteau we want them to feel they are in someone’s place and have a relationship with the people around them,” Laprise said. “This show is more human. We have creatures and beautiful contortionists, but there are people you can relate to like the Travelers who use canes and hats and real furniture [in the act.]”
The idea, he explained, is to give the audience a sense of the wonderment that is all around them, even at their own homes with their own furniture. “When you get back home and look at that chair in the kitchen, that is something [you] can sit on. It has a design. But you can have multiple functions. [You] can dance with that chair. Our objective is for you to leave the big top thinking, ‘Wow, it is true that everything is possible and the world around me has a poetry.”
The show’s scenic design — deep red wood, copper and textured floor — differs, too, as do the curios and characters like Mr. Microcosmos, the leader of the group and embodiment of technological progress who has a 20-pound belly that sports imagery like the Eiffel Tower. That bulging belly took prop makers 250 hours to build. The retro-future Industrial Revolution-era flavoring and steampunk aesthetic of metal, robots, glowing filaments and mad scientist’s inventions like a phonograph incorporated into the costuming is all a means of “connecting people” Laprise said.
This is more than a show, it’s a mission.
Michel Laprise, ‘Kurios’ writer/director.
Reviewers have noticed the effort.
“The combination of acts in ‘Kurios’ seems more varied, exotic and inspired than usual. … The production is infused with a vaguely macabre air, a touch of the eerie freak show, that gives the whole a more cohesive, occasionally entrancing effect,” The New York Times wrote in November.
“‘Kurios’ is Cirque du Soleil’s most astonishing spectacle in years,” said Time Out, praising Laprise for “a departure from the otherworldly themes for which Cirque is best known.”
The praise is the sweetest music to Laprise.
“I want you to experience what I experienced,” he said. “When we did the world premiere in Montreal everyone was saying ‘Cirque is back’ and so enthusiastic. After a couple troubled years, to me, that means a lot. I wanted to go back to the soul and essence and that comes from working all together and to dare to do something different. We’re not only there to impress but to touch. This is more than a show — it’s a mission.”
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If you go
What: Cirque du Soleil’s ‘Kurios: Cabinet of Curiosities’
When: Opens 4:30 p.m. Saturday, through Jan. 29. Show times vary
Where: Near the grounds of Hard Rock Stadium, 347 Don Shula Dr., Miami Gardens
Tickets: Start at $39 with premium and VIP packages and pricing up to $285