I had the opportunity to see Cirque du Soleil’s Kooza the other night. I’ve seen a film of their underwater show (and quite a long while ago) but I have never seen an act in person. We had the cheap seats (at $60) under the blue and yellow Grand Chapiteau (big top) and it was still quite close as the stage is mostly theatre in the round. Everyone is close enough to see the acrobatics, though on the side you might end up with a lighting post or miss a little bit in the two-tiered rotunda which housed the band and singers on the top tierbut I think that was mostly just for their entrance.
The show began with a young character in a type of punchinello/pulcinella outfit trying to fly a kite when a large box is delivered from which a character leaps out with a magic wand. I almost expected a genie lamp because the rotunda’s red, burgundy and teal curtains had a slightly Persian/Aladdin feel, and was accentuated by the troupe that first comes out tumbling and balancing on each other and large balls. Dressed in hats, red and white, with a pattern like scaled armor on some, the troupe looked like soldiers or guards. These performers ranged in size from very petite women to large, well muscled men, who were the brawn upon which the others actually stand.
The singer and band wardrobes complemented the exotic style of the set. After the balancing act there were two contortionists with utterly amazing moves. I’m not sure one should be able to rest their head on their own butt, and the ways these women moved are hard to visualize because it was so bizarre. These feats of agility and strength are almost beyond comprehension. A single trapeze artist did several hard spins and twists on the swing but she didn’t seem quite on. However, it’s harder to execute such moves without a partner. The hand-to-hand couple displayed teamwork where strength, balance and flexibility show a constant flow of the human form. Costumes don’t always match what’s on the site and there was no unicycle act but Cirque says these can change from time to time.
There were also four tightrope walkers working at 15 and 25 feet, walking, and on bikes. I found this act well done but the least amazing in a stunning show. This was only because my mind was going, oh they’re only balancing on this thin wire. And yet I was thinking, OH! They’re only balancing on this thin wire. Not something most of us could do without years of practice. It was this act, along with the trapeze artist, and later the man balancing on a tower of chairs, that struck home to me that this was like the circus I saw when I was a kid. I don’t remember much and must have been very young because I don’t think circuses were that frequent even when I was a teenager. I remember elephants, lion tamers, clowns, four-person trapeze, tightrope and chair balancing. This must have been the Shrine Circus, run by the Shriners (freemasons) since I don’t think Ringling or Barnum & Bailey came to Canada.
Cirque of course has no animals, except for the dog. This creature, along with the clowns, king, trickster,thief and cops were the pantomime and comic acts between the acrobatics and the thread of the story. If you were in the front aisles or the side seats there was a certain amount of audience involvement, which I won’t give away but it sometimes involved a volunteer being taken onto the stage. The larger troupe also shot colorful ticker tape/confetti from canons into the audience which added to the circus atmosphere. The clowns were very good and silly but I didn’t care for the magician/thief much. I guess he was too smarmy for my tastes and his magic was okay but somewhat obvious.
In the second half of the performance, after a half-hour intermission, the troupe came out dressed in darker skeleton outfits (but with happy masks) and there was more of the dark carnivale feel with an imitation of Vegas showgirls sporting the big feather tails and headdresses. I presume this darker side was kept lighter because of the mix of audience ages but I thought the music could have matched the outfits and skeleton theme much better with more percussion or sticks to imitate bones. Various “skeletons” and the innocent chased each other with scythes from time to time. The quality of the dancers did seem to vary a lot but then some of the other acrobatic performers were mixed in with the regular troupe and some performers movements looked more precise and energetic compared to others.
Other performances included the man balancing on chairs up to 23 feet and strength and beauty of his physique was as awe-inspiring as his balance, flexibility and strength. The hoop artist took hula hoops to a new height. It was mesmerizing to watching the spinning silver hoops as she stood on one leg and juggled or spun up to seven. Spectacular. The teeterboard had acrobats doing spins and leaps in the air, including on stilts. Very well executed. And the spinning wheel of death had two daredevils dressed in scaled legs with little horns on their heads that seemed to play back to the dark skeleton parade theme of the second half. One man was in each large metal circle (think hamster wheel) attached to the other one and they began to walk, faster and faster, until they were doing leaps and drops. I thought okay, so they’re walking in a big circle but it took on a more daring edge when one daredevil leapt to the outside of the ring and proceeded to skip, leap and jump. He nearly fell once or twice, catching the rope on his heel, but considering the difficulty of trying to meet the edge of a ring spinning beneath your feet, it just showed he was human.
Though I thought the precision was missing a bit in the troupe, overall Cirque’s Kooza was beautiful, amazing and harkening back to the roots of the circus performer. It was well worth the price and at about two hours of acrobatics it somehow didn’t quite seem long enough to view the epitome of what the human body can do. I’d give Kooza an 8.5 out of 10.