COURTESY MARTIN GIRARD / SHOOTSTUDIO.CAFour amazing contortionists performing on a big mechanical hand are among the many delights in Cirque du Soleil’s “Kurios – Cabinet of Curiosities

Cirque du Soleil’s ‘Cabinet of Curiosities’ kills

Now celebrating its 30th anniversary, the ever-astonishing, Montreal mega-company Cirque du Soleil offers its best show to appear locally in years.

Unlike some previous productions, “Kurios – Cabinet of Curiosities” never tries too hard in the clowning department — it just consistently is hilarious — nor is it ever pretentiously artsy or precious.

First-time Cirque writer-director Michel Laprise presents a thematically cohesive alternate universe: steampunk aesthetics matched to a turn-of-the-20th-century, scientific-experimentation-gone-haywire concept.

It’s a universe in which electricity seems dangerous and miraculous, a universe of inventions and “curiosities.” Locomotives, bizarre flying contraptions, hot-air balloons, gramophones, bicycles and weird, hybrid-looking, oversized props and set pieces coalesce to form a mechanically driven landscape, one in which scientists in lab coats mingle with characters in quasi-Victorian and Edwardian attire, Dr. Seuss hats and other oddball costumes.

A giant wall clock registers the passing of only a few minutes, as though we’re in an alien space-time continuum.

And it’s a universe of human curiosities as well, who perform heart-stopping and awe-inspiring feats in a way that perfectly suits the ambiance.

There are the contortionists, who arrive like a multi-legged sculpture on the back of a gigantic hand; the trapeze, rola bola and banquine; trampoline acts in which the performers twist, somersault and seem to fly; the jugglers; the acrobats; the dancers and musicians; a watery sort of dreamscape with fish and swimmers; a yo-yo artist. Much of the action happens in space: a juggler juggles mid-air; a bicyclist pedals gracefully above the stage; a woman is thrown about like a rubber doll; performers rise and descend majestically, in clouds of steam, from the distant heights of the big top.

Everything here feels wondrous, calling to mind such classics as “Mary Poppins” (the book, not the movie) and “The Wizard of Oz.”

Special delights:

A clown who mimics a cat so meticulously that I actually screamed with laughter.

A witty “invisible circus” act.

A tea party that magically becomes an upside-down world – an “Alice Through the Looking Glass” effect that is breathtaking.

A puppet show in which the break-dancing puppets are simply fingers and hands.

There’s a vaudeville-era quality to the proceedings, too: a pair of faux conjoined twins, a human squeezebox, characters with weird, deformed prosthetics and a (self-described) “proportional dwarf” — a svelte, meter-high actress who’s integral to the action, not a sideshow.

Wildly imaginative, joyous, musically captivating and nonstop funny, this cirque is a charmer.

REVIEW

Kurios – Cabinet of Curiosities

Presented by Cirque du Soleil

When: 8 p.m. most Tuesdays-Thursdays, 4:30 and 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 1:30 and 5 p.m. Sundays; closes Jan. 18

Tickets: $53 to $135

Contact: (800) 450-1480, www.cirquedusoleil.com

artsCirque do SoleilKurios _ Cabinet of CuriositiesMichel Laprise

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