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Imaginative staging turns Cirque du Soleil's circus upside-down; 'Kurios - The Cabinet of Curiosities' stages shows through Oct. 8

COURTESY: MARTIN GIRARD/SHOOTSTUDIO.CA - Cirque du Soleil's 'Kurios: The Cabinet of Curiosities' tells a story of wonder, accentuated by the daring acrobats, such as on Continent of Doubles straps.Cirque du Soleil is thrilling crowds under the big top at the Expo Center again, and the show continues into October.

"Kurios — The Cabinet of Curiosities" might be the most unusual and interesting Cirque show to come through Portland. It has everything from high fliers and contortionists to hand theater, invisible circus and yo-yo, along with steampunk-themed odd, colorful and ornate costumes and design rounding out its comedy, drama, poetry and music.

Cirque's message: "What if by engaging our imagination and opening our minds we could unlock the door to a world of wonders?

"We are in a future past — a Thomas-Edison-meets-Jules-Verne retro future. We are now or never."

"Kurios" has its share of cool characters:

COURTESY: MARTIN GIRARD/SHOOTSTUDIO.CA - Aerial Bicycle has played in recent years by France native Anne Weissbecker, who also performs in Upside Down World.The Seeker is searching for "a fountainhead of wonders," looking for a hidden world where "the craziest ideas and the grandest dreams lie waiting," where a collection of otherworldly characters in a makeshift mechancal world turn his world upside-down and pique his curiousity of what could be.

The industrial Mr. Microcosmos is the "embodiment of technological progress." He doesn't realize the diminutive Mini Lili lives inside his rotund self.

The sensitive and awkward Nico, the accordion man, "always rises to the occasion."

And, there are the robot Winch Plunger, The Mentalist, Klara the alpha-waver, and train-riding Synchronized Chaos.

But, it's the acrobats that usually steal the show, and "Kurios" has a lot of them: Russian Cradle duo, Aerial Bicycle, Rola Bola, Acro Net, Continent of Doubles straps, Banquine and maybe the most unusual act, Upside Down World.

It's such a diverse show, it really has to be seen to be believed and understood. It is circus emanating from Quebec, Canada, after all, creative and unique and unabashedly French. (Yes, tickets are still available).

WEISSBECKER"I think it's a really fun show," says Anne Weissbecker, the Aerial Bicyclist and member of Upside Down World. "Really beautiful, the colors, the costumes, and a lot of surprises. So many surprises."

Weissbecker, 30-something from France and a nine-year member of Cirque (including The Beatles "Love"), learned to perform with a real bicycle for her act. She's usually a rope and trapeze performer.

"Everything is moving. It's really unstable, with handlebars and pedals and wheels moving," she says. "To make it look easy and smooth was a big job."

In Upside Down World, a mirror image of folks enjoying dinner on stage develops high above, and eventually chair-stacking acrobatics help the worlds reach each other. It truly is an act that could only be in Cirque, it would seem.

"We have to train to stay upside-down a long time, it can be up to five minutes," Weissbecker says. "It's not technically difficult, but you feel your blood going to your head."

HUBENERIt is quite wondrous to watch some of these acts, including the simple Acro Net (trampoline), which Mathieu Hubener of France has performed with "Kurios" for nearly four of his seven years with the company.

The trampoline acrobats go 55 feet up in the air.

"The net is really forgiving, so we don't take an impact," says Hubener, 30. "The hard part is the takeoff, but it's very soft on the landing."

Having participated in gymnastics and trampoline competitions growing up, it doesn't make him the least bit nervous — "we've been doing it a long time and every night."

ROMAN TOMANOVBrothers Vitaly and Roman Tomanov, born in Russia and sons of a former Cirque performer, are teaming together in the Straps Act for the first time in Cirque du Soleil. They have done their separate acts — Vitaly for "Jubilee" and Fremont Street shows in Las Vegas, Roman with Cirque.

"It's worked out really good," says Vitaly, 36. "Cirque had wanted me to do backup before, but it didn't work out for me."

With duo straps, the performers have to be in sync, or it doesn't look good or an accident might happen. Cues help keep them together. It's tough to keep in sync, but the brothers try really hard, having trained the same way.

"Our dad was our coach, he taught us the same," says Roman, 28.

VITALY TOMANOVLoops in their hands keep them attached to the straps as they swing high and wide. "You can always develop harder tricks," Roman says.

It's a job for the performers, but Cirque has a great reputation in the circus business.

"Great company to work for. It's comfortable," Hubener says. "I'm working with people of 20 different nationalities."

"Stability," Roman Tomanov says. "It's a great opportunity. And, Cirque offers the best technology — lighting, music, automation cues.

"This whole cast is amazing. Super friendly." Adds his brother: "It's like a big family."

"Kurios" ends in Portland Oct. 8, and then has shows in Vancouver, British Columbia, before heading overseas, starting with shows in Japan.

"Of course, it's a job," Weissbecker says. "But it's a fun job, to bring entertainment and joy to people. It's rewarding."

"Kurios — The Cabinet of Curiosities" shows take place 8 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays, 4:30 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays and 1:30 p.m. and 5 p.m. Sundays under the big top at Expo Center, 2060 N. Marine Drive, through Oct. 8. Tickets ($39-$135) can be purchased at www.cirquedusoleil.com/kurios.

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