‘Kurios – Cabinet of Curiosities’ continues through May 21 at Sam Houston Race Park
By Donalevan Maines
To become a Cirque du Soleil artist, out Aussie Nathan Dennis first had to master gymnastics.
“I didn’t like competing at all,” says the 31-year-old muscle man, who parlayed a spot on Australia’s national gymnastics team to become an acrobat with Cirque du Soleil.
Through May 21, Dennis appears in Kurios – Cabinet of Curiosities, the latest show from Cirque du Soleil, at Sam Houston Race Park.
“He is one of the acrobats featuring two shirtless men, if you’ve seen the show,” a promoter tells me.
Yes, and he sports a tattoo that covers his chiseled, left pectoral, shoulder and bicep. I see that.
Dennis says: “I saw my first Cirque de Soleil show when I was 13, and I said to my mum, ‘I want to do that.’ I didn’t like traditional circuses before, but I heard the laughter and saw the smiles on people’s faces, and I thought it would be something interesting to do.”
Researching how to forge his future, Dennis discovered that he had to focus on high-level gymnastics, to impress the Canadian entertainment company.
At gymnastic competitions, though, Dennis says: “I didn’t like the format. I would walk around, and look around, and try to learn cool stunts.”
At age 20, Dennis auditioned for Cirque du Soleil, and was hired.
“I am home two weeks out of the year, in Brisbane, Australia, and I tour the rest of the year.”
In 2014, Dennis debuted in the original cast of Kurios, a steampunk-type production in which “outlandish, benevolent characters” engage the imagination of a character called the Seeker “with a touch of poetry and humor.”
“Seeing is disbelieving,” says the show’s press material. “Suddenly, the visible becomes invisible, perspectives are transformed, and the world is literally turned upside down.”
Dennis performs in the five-minute opening sequence, then returns with five other trampolinists in the six-minute “Acro Net” episode.
“A net that’s stretched tighter than a normal trampoline allows us to double-bounce and flip in the air,” says Dennis.
The show features an assortment of fantasy characters, including a handyman, Nico, with an accordion costume; a fearless aviator in a small propeller plane; and an authority figure, called Mr. Microcosmos.
The 42 performers—called “artists”—are mostly Russian, but the company of 100, including technicians and physical therapists, represent 15 different nationalities.
The Kurios group’s longest engagement in one city was two months, in New York, he says. “My favorite cities in America have been Chicago and Miami.”
While in Houston, Dennis stays in a River Oaks-area apartment, working out daily at Skyline CrossFit, and performing in one or two shows each day.
“I just signed for next year, to do a show in Japan for 16 months,” he says.
Afterwards, Dennis hopes to settle down in Brisbane and open his own gym.
He won’t hesitate to recommend running away with Cirque du Soleil if any of his students want to do it.
“I would tell them, ‘Just go for it. Send your video in.’”