By Amy Moeller | August 19, 2016 | Culture
The show of the season is under the Big Top in Tysons this summer. Cirque du Soleil’s KURIOS: Cabinet of Curiosities, explores the “alternate yet familiar past” of a magical, larger-than-life curio cabinet that houses a “hidden, invisible world… where the craziest ideas and the grandest dreams await.” To learn more about the production, we caught up with the writer and director Michel Laprise, celebrating his 16th year with Cirque.
You’re a busy man—at the airport as we speak!
MICHEL LAPRISE: [Laughs] My dad used to call my assistant and say, “It’s Michel’s father. I don’t want to disturb you, but where on the planet is he?”
This is the first long-running show you’ve written for Cirque. Is travel a major source of inspiration?
ML: I like to meet people and be in different environments. At Cirque du Soleil, we have to speak to different audiences so it's good to be in contact with different cultures all the time. At the same time, if you want something to be universal, you need to be personal. International is different, but universal you have to speak about something very human. That will appeal to different cultures and demographics.
So how did you come up with the concept for this show?
ML: I'd been dreaming to do a blue and yellow Big Top show. I went to spend a whole afternoon looking at it. It's very simple. Four masts. A canvas. No moving parts, it's just a tent. [But] when you see the Big Top, you are instantly touched by the magic.
Ultimately, you thought it looked like a giant antennae, which led you to the idea of the invisible.
ML: I started to write a story about this scientific man building a machine connected to that antennae because he wants to travel in the invisible and to the parallel universe. He's convinced that in that dimension there is the Valley of the Possible Impossibles. Over there, you have all the dreams that wait until they're dreamt on Earth. It's also where the crazy ideas that we abandoned because someone said they’re unrealistic or whatever exist. They refuge in that Valley. He wants to travel to that dimension, reach the valley, and bring back to Earth all the dreams and the crazy ideas. At the beginning of the show, he starts the machine but the machine malfunctions.
Why did you set the story in the second half of the 19th Century?
ML: At first I was researching the invention of electricity because it was interesting to read about the whole antennae and the mysterious aspect of the invisible energy that was electricity. Then I realized that a lot of things, like the railway system, were invented or developed at that same era. The telegraph. The gramophone was a huge thing—for the first time you could have music and human voice travel. You could immortalize someone’s voice. I realized that a lot of inventions had to do with connecting people. All this human interaction was so inspiring. There was a lot of trying to make the life of people better by making them closer to one another. It was pretty inspiring.
Curiosity plays a big part.
ML: That's another pillar of the creation. When people are curious…they are just like a kid. I found a picture of a giant chair, and when you sit on a giant chair, by the play of proportions and perception, you become like a kid. You find again your optimism and a fresh outlook on life that you had when you were three years old. That's the attitude I wanted the audience to have for that show.
Cirque is traditionally so high-tech, but you tried to make this show feel less so.
ML: There's as much, if not more, technology but it's hidden. We wanted something more magical. We had heard, just before we started, that audiences were starting to see that we were beginning to be predictable, so I said to the team, “Let's reinvent ourselves.” I put together a list of things we usually do at Cirque, and I questioned [each.] “Is this something we do out of habit, or is it something we do out of creative necessity?” If it was not creative necessity I said, “Let's find another way to do this.” We worked very hard but we worked in joy because this is exactly the show we wanted to do. We wanted it to be uplifting, to be very theatrical, and to make people feel that everything is possible.
There’s another change for this show.
ML: We are very close to each other, this whole Kurios family. I wanted the audience to feel close to the cast. The set designer proposed the idea to lower the stage. We've never had that before at Cirque. It's a lower stage so it brings the performance closer to the audience.
How do you like being in DC?
ML: I really enjoyed working in Washington. I simply love it… the artists and the crew are really excited. Here, San Francisco, Boston, those markets where people are more educated—I don't want to sound elitist, but I think Washington is going to be a great city in terms of reaction.
KURIOS: Cabinet of Curiosities, Soleil’s 35th production, is under the Tysons II Big Top through September 18th.
PHOTOGRAPHY COURTESY OF Martin Girard / shootstudio.ca Costumes: Philippe Guillotel © 2014 Cirque du Soleil