Costumes in Cirque du Soleil's New Show are Incredible

"Kurios" costumes are as durable and movable as they are stunning
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Performers seemingly constructed of salvaged metal parts. An upside-down dinner scene where counterweights attached to an artist’s costume give the illusion of reverse gravity. A rola bola specialist who wears a gold-lined, translucent aqua-colored overcoat reminscent of the early brittle plastics, Bakelite and Rhodoid.

We expect extravagance from the big top, but we’re usually so taken with the acrobatics and overall spectacle, we don’t stop to consider the backstory, especially regarding the costumes.

In Cirque du Soleil’s “KURIOS—Cabinet of Curiosities” (at Marymoor Park starting January 29), we probably wouldn't imagine, for example, that select apparel was 3D-printed to fits artists’ bodies precisely, and that some performers change five to six times throughout the show, amounting to 125 “looks” for some characters and 5,000 total costume items (hats, jackets, etc.). These intricacies have a leading role in keeping Kurios audiences captivated, however--and they have a narrative all their own.

Underwater creatures perform the Acro Net act; photo credit: Martin Girard

Lauded by The San Francisco Chronicle as “the best Cirque du Soleil show in a long time,” Kurios follows a scientist over the turn of the 20th century who is researching ways to travel in his lab when he is visited by characters from another universe.

“It’s a very visual show,” Julie de Carufel, head of wardrobe, says, “and up to the person who sees it to interpret it how they want.”

Mr. Microcosmos and Mini Lili; photo credit: Martin Girard

A "fearless aviator" performs a rola bola act; photo credit: Martin Girard

The production's non-traditional, “a little oddball” costumes add significantly to this imaginative effect, she explains: “You’re not going to see a bunch of acrobats in leotards.” Costume designer Phillippe Guillotel (who also designed for Cirque's The Beatles Love and Iris) designed Kurios costumes around mechanical inventions from the late 1800s and early 1900s, such as the telegraph machine and electricity.

To develop his concept, the designer toured art galleries including the Musée des Arts et Metiers, an industrial design museum in Paris, with Director Michel Laprise. Both were moved by the work of contemporary Belgian sculptor Stéphane Halleux, who creates people using unique objects such as motors from hair dryers, sewing arms on in leather and adding pieces of automobiles.

In Guillotel’s resulting design for Kurios, what de Carufel likes best is that “you clearly see the period lines of the turn of the century,” but the detailed appearance of characters is just the surface of the designer's innovation with this show.

In a circus, performers must be able to move easily and impressively such that “the shape of the costume becomes the character and the reverse—like a second skin,” de Carufel says. Moreover, the costumes must endure against constant use and washing in a production expected to run 10 years. To make the apparel functional, Guillotel chose about six base fabrics, which the staff dyed, painted, printed with textile designs and added foil to, depending on the desired effect. Mimicking materials like leather and metal, Kurios attire looks like it's heavy, but it is actually fairly light and durable.

 

Klara, the Telegraph of the Invisible, is a character who can receive alpha waves by turning on her heels and pointing her hoop skirt in various directions. Photo credit: Pierre Manning


Mr. Microcosmos; photo credit: Pierre Manning

“This is where [Guillotel] was brilliant,” de Carufel says. “He not only designed an amazing look, but he made an image that would last on stage after two months, after six months, which is what you need for a show touring this long.”

The resulting Kurios costumes took the building team in Montreal a year to create. Once the show went on the road, the operations team—de Carufel’s—took over to maintain, mend and press the attire on site (for eight to 11 performances per week), and to order replacement pieces from Montreal as needed. De Carufel heads up a team of two seamstresses who travel with her, and the circus hires four additional in each performance city.

“The touring life is very hard on costumes,” says de Carufel. Most costume items last six months to a year without replacement, but it depends. “The closer to the body the costume is, the shorter life span it has,” she says. A top hat can last three years.

Kurios opened in Montreal in April of last year and will be at Marymoor from Thursday, January 29 to Sunday, March 22 ($80 to $156). After our run, the circus will go to Calgary, then Alberta, then return stateside (opening in Denver in June).

A Russian cradle duo performs; photo credit: Martin Girard

This creature is all about mystery; photo credit: Pierre Manning

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