Kurios as Classroom

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Over the years, I have learned many new things across a wide spectrum of topics simply by being involved in the steampunk community. So many of the creative things we see and do in steampunk practically beg us to learn more so we can do more and enjoy more.

When I went to see the latest Cirque du Soleil show, the steampunk themed Kurios, I was not disappointed at all in that learning aspect. Previously, I mentioned how the show is entertaining and just plain fun, but it is also quite educational as well.

Maybe it is the program manager – engineer – student in me, but before, during and after the show, I was looking at all the details which went into making the whole experience. These details and the attention to quality, is something that speaks to all of us as steampunks, in whatever our expression thereof is. Our authors don’t just write a book, the research the historical details of things that matter in the story, and continue to hone their craft of writing. Our musicians don’t just play an instrument, they learn techniques to deliver a great performance. Our designers don’t just create fashions and items, they bring visions to life with imagination, creativity and skill.

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Likewise, Kurios isn’t just a show, it’s a place and a performance to whet out educational appetites. From the whole experience we can learn all kinds of interesting things for our own lives and interests.

Starting at the beginning, there were two years of planning and design work before any of the artists were brought in. It all starts with an idea, then a concept, brainstorming to let it grow into something feasible. There’s costumes to create, and associated personas, and a set for them to act on.

Even just those few steps requires a design vision, then the skills and technologies to make the ideas a reality. Where can items be found to make some of the props? What has to be made from scratch if it can’t be found. What is the underlying, and even hidden, technology that’s going to make it work?

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Along the way, everyone was learning what steampunk is, and what Cirque’s expression of it was going to be. It’s industrial, it’s mechanical, it’s whimsical, it’s fancy, it’s old but new. With Stéphane Roy‘s set design, some heavy duty engineering is needed to make it happen.

Everything for the show fits into 63 trailers, and takes a week to transport and set up. That alone is some feat! How long has it taken any of us to move from one house to another, or an apartment? Making this function smoothly takes a great deal of planning and creativity to make sure everything has a place.

How does the Chapiteau get set up? Here’s a video showing the crew and effort that’s needed. Lots and lots of manual effort goes into transforming an empty space into the performance space. And plenty of physics and engineering to hold it all up.

Cirque_du_Soleil's_Kurios,_Grand_Chapiteau-toronto

Also behind the scenes is technology and engineering to make things move during the show. I spent some time talking with David Greatrex, the head of automation for Kurios, about what is needed for the various acts.

David joined the show 6 months before it premiered, working to design what the show needed and wanted to do, and then not only what equipment was needed to make that happen, but also to make sure the hardware and technology would survive the rigors of two years of touring, as well.

David says with his collaborations with the artists, initially there might be manual actions via a joystick to raise, lower, and otherwise move things around, and then once the act is determined, then repeatable cues and programs are written to ensure quality and safety in every performance. This ensures consistency even when a new performer joins the team.

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There’s also a great deal of communication before, during, and after the show, keeping track of people and props, not only ensuring safety but also creating an impressive view from the front of the house. David says he’s also learned the nuances and performance personalities of the artists – with the Acro Net, for example, while the net needs to be under a certain tension, there are also variations and adjustments to be made for new or replacement props as well as how one artist performs their twists, somersaults, and flights.

He told me a bit about the construction of the Russian Cradle used by two of the acrobat artists. It’s silently, and manually, rolled out onto the stage while the audience’s attention is diverted elsewhere, but when ready, the spotlights swivel to the large box onstage, which then begins to unfold. The front drops down gently but in a mechanical and hydraulic flourish, followed by the back. Once open and the support lines taught by the weight for the front and back panels, the stage is set for an incredible acrobatic performance of strength and agility.

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One thing that David has learned from working with Cirque shows, and about steampunk with Kurios, is that nothing is really set in stone and that performances, and expressions of steampunk, while using a common theme or idea, are really up to the individual and their own vision to bring to life.

Appealing to the program manager in me, is the vast attention to details and tasks that are needed , big things like making sure the costumes are washed and dried each night, and repaired constantly, and little things like making sure the battery packs are recharged after every performance. There’s also the onstage set choreography that happens, redirecting the audience’s attention while the props are moved on and off set. That alone was fascinating to watch – how the pieces seem to just appear and disappear seamlessly in the action onstage.

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Ryan Shinji Murray says being part of a larger show like Kurios and Cirque du Soleil is the opportunity to work on a grander scale and learn new skills, work with new technologies, and get to work with a larger team of co-performers and supporting staff. Working on the brand new Acro Net required new engineering, and also took some time and effort to get used to what the net could afford in a performance. This is a trampoline on steroids and can send the artists 40 feet into the air – that definitely takes some getting used to!

Further, Ryan says that being part of the show enables him to meet other people involved in the show from around the world. Communication, cultures, getting to know people.

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Another part of Kurios, and any show, is learning how to do things, not just what is needed for an act, but for all the things that go into putting together the whole experience. Part of that is setting up the artistic tent – a place to practice, work out, train, and collaborate.

What we see in Kurios as members of the audience, like attending a steampunk convention or creating something ourselves, is just the tip of the iceberg. With Kurios, there is the performance, and the months of training and practice that goes into an act; the design and technical engineering for everything we see; the stage choreography to direct the audience’s attention and move the set pieces in and out; and further, there’s the artwork, the marketing, business processes, security, logistics, and so much more.

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What can we as steampunks take away from the experience of Kurios? Learn about yourself and what you are interested in. Learn how do something that you enjoy and do it to the best of your abilities. Learn about other things not only for the joy of learning something new but also for the appreciation of understanding how things, and people, work.

 

If you have the opportunity, put on your steampunk finest and catch a performance of Kurios. Failing that, at least buy the CD and enjoy the energy of the music.

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Head over to the website for show and ticket information, and to see which character you are in the Cabinet of Curiosities.

 

Kurios is in Seattle through the end of March, then

Calgary, Alberta opening April 9, 2015

Denver, Colorado opening June 11, 2015

then, Chicago, Illinois,

Costa Mesa, California,

Los Angeles, California.

 

For more information and interviews, check out these links

DailyXtra on Youtube

Amelie Robitaille Cirque de Soliel Interview

Nick Pitera Behind the Scenes Tour

Press release

 

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Published in: on February 23, 2015 at 10:36 pm  Comments (3)  
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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. […] Airship Ambassador – Kurios as Classroom […]

  2. Reblogged this on Cogpunk Steamscribe and commented:
    Circus Steampunk

  3. […] montage. There’s several posts as part of Steampunk Hands Around the World 2015 – here, here, and […]


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