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  • Susie Conte



Cirque du Soleil

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 and our anxieties are extreme. I watched most of the show with my hand half over my eyes. The acts feel dangerous. They are truly death-defying. There have been dozens of instances of falls, broken bones and 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.

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.

An Innocent (Vladislav Zolotarev)) is shown the world of Kooza by the Trickster (Joey Arrigo) who has created it from his magic wand.

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 one to start with. It is the biggest, loudest, brashest, most intense circus in the world. Over 100 million people have experienced a Cirque du Soleil show, and the company turns over $600 million a year. Started as a group of street performers in Quebec in the early 1980s, the company has grown exponentially and now, according to Wikipedia, there are 17 touring shows as of 2017. Each 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 Koozå'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.

I got to see Kooza under a ‘grand chapiteau’, a big top erected at Belmont Park racecourse. Just parking outside I felt a palpable sense of excitement from the audience members swarming in. The site takes around eight days to construct and three days to pack up. The tent is 19 metres high and is 51 metres in diameter. A single performance can seat more than 2,600 spectators. It is a mammoth undertaking just to set up, let alone to perform, but the show was 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.

I tweeted just before the show that I was watching my first Cirque du Soleil and I got an answer from them – “Enjoy!” I did…


KOOZA plays until June 11, 2017 at Belmont Racecourse