Review by Susie Conte
According to founder Guy Laliberte, Kooza takes us back to the roots of Cirque du Soleil, to the profound craziness of Cirque’s early days. Death-defying acts, contortionists, kings and clowns, aerial feats of magic – Cirque du Soleil feels old school circus yet fresh, juxtaposing slapstick clown tricks with boundary-pushing new acts. The limits the performers push their bodies to and our anxieties are extreme. I watched most of the show with my hand half over my eyes. The acts feel dangerous, and they are truly death-defying. There have been dozens of instances of falls, broken bones and sadly, even deaths during shows, including the son of co-founder of Cirque du Soleil, Gilles Ste-Croix. These ridiculously talented performers must run on pure adrenaline.
The show opened while the audience was filing in, with the King of Clowns (Gordon White) and his two henchmen flitting through the audience and including us in their mayhem. An Innocent (Vladislav Zolotarev) is shown the world of Kooza by the Trickster (Joey Arrigo) who has created it from his magic wand. Director David Shiner wanted to make a show devoted to the art and spirit of clowning. The clown ‘reminds us of our humanity.’ The three clowns here are magnificent.
There is a peeing dog, haunting music, stilts, clever non sequiturs, and dozens of small moments that create the magic of a circus. The audience was subject to confetti, water sprays, being sat on by clowns, being hit on the head with a plastic steak and popcorn was stolen. Each detail is minutely choreographed but has a real soul.
If you are new to Cirque du Soleil, as I was, this is the best time to get familiar with the biggest, loudest, brashest, most intense circus in the world. Each Cirque show is a synthesis of circus styles from around the world, with its own central theme and storyline. Shows employ continuous live music, with performers rather than stagehands changing the props.
KOOZA was first started in 2007, and there are 50 performers doing eight major acts. Stéphane Roy designed KOOZA’s stage to evoke a public square that changes into a circus ring. The stage has one major component, a traveling tower dubbed the “bataclan.” The decoration for the bataclan is inspired by Hindu culture, Pakistani buses and Indian jewelry. The colours and costumes are vibrant reds, golds, and silvers.
A palpable sense of excitement exudes from the audience members swarming in. The ‘grand chapiteau’, a big top erected at Belmont Park racecourse, takes around eight days to construct and three days to pack up. It’s a mammoth undertaking just to set up, let alone to perform, but the show is slickly delivered. Each act takes your breath away. From the contortionist trio of Mongolian acrobats who twist their bodies into incomprehensible shapes, to an aerial hoop performer from Canada who actually blurs at times she is moving so fast, and a unicycle duo from Russia who dance around the stage together, there is something for everyone.
The showstopper doesn’t come at the end but at the beginning of the Second Act – the Wheel of Death with Ronald Solis Montes and Jimmy Ibarra Zapata from Colombia. A large rotating apparatus with wheels at both ends, from which the two men in flame costumes jump and duck and weave, is a sight to behold. The audience was screaming out in pleasure and fear at the act and it got a standing ovation. I felt a little sick but wanted to see them do it again.
KOOZA runs at Belmont Park Racecourse until June 11, 2017. For tickets and more information, visit the Cirque du Soleil website here.