Kooza (Cirque du Soleil)
Grand Chapiteau, Skygate
November 24 – January 8
I’m not that much of a circus fan; even seeing the Moscow circus in Russia left me feeling a bit ‘meh’ so the Cirque du Soleil phenomenon has, until now, remained elusive in my repertoire of shows seen. After experiencing its “Kooza”, I proclaim myself converted. The 2007 critically acclaimed touring spectacular from the French Canadian company is a spectacle in every good sense of word, that, put simply, needs to be seen to be believed.
The narrative begins with the childlike whimsy of a flying kite before jack-in-the-box interruption of a Trickster (Mike Tyus) to captivate the Innocent protagonist (Vladislav Zolotarev) through introduction to a myriad of magical things and comic characters including a King, an Obnoxious Tourist and even a big Bad Dog. It is a flimsy narrative premise but its through-line and arc to the show’s conclusion provide some beautiful moments amidst the colourful circus chaos.
In many ways “Kooza” serves as a modern homage to the intimate traditions and essential human elements of circus in its combination of acrobatic performance and clowning (especially in pre-show audience banter). Each cast member rises to the physical demands of their performance. From the solo, breathtaking aerial hoop act featuring Brisbane’s own elite gymnast Lisa Skinner to Irina Akimova’s speedy hoops routine, every routine is astounding in is execution.
And when, late in the Act Two, China’s Yao Den Bo balances in headstand atop chairs stacked upon pedestal seven meters into the air, audience members are collective in their breath-holding.
One of the pinnacles comes at the end of Act One, when wire-walkers from Spain and Columbia perform double decker high-wire acts, 15 meters above the ground. It is always worrisome when high acts are performed without aid of precautionary netting (like when a waiter takes a slew of orders without bothering to write anything down) and, after this, when a net does eventually appear, you know you are in for something particularly special; as the group tightrope atop each other, including on bicycles, the only response is to stare with mouth agape at the real risks being overcome in front of you.
Things become a bit stranger as, after intermission, skeletons with scythes replace the vaudevillian cops and robbers of Act One. Indeed, the title, full-cast number appears almost like a cross between Tim Burton and “The Great Gatsby” as jaunty sounds accompany Mexican Day of the Dead costume imagery.
Act Two is certainly thrilling with many moments of audible audience gasping, especially during the imposing metallic Wheel of Death, which rotates, powered only by the two artists (Jimmy Ibarra and Ronald Solis) who leap and counter-rotate in display of fearless acrobatics. And then there is the final act, a big, acrobatic ensemble piece, using a teeter-board to fling performers high into the air where they execute quintuple twisting somersaults, including when on stilts.
With so much going on at any one time, the set has an intentional public square type feel to it. Its Bataclan tower, flanked by two curved staircases serves as a bandstand. Its decoration, inspired by Hindu culture, Pakistani buses and Indian jewellery offers wonderful aesthetic accompaniment to the show’s other creative elements. On-cue lighting colours things vividly, adding joviality and joy to the experience and supports the atmosphere created by the soundtrack’ sub-continental influences.
The music is like art in itself, thanks to the show’s six musicians and two live singers, Lisa Marie Ramey and Alessandra Gonzalez. There is international flair too in the custom-made costumes such as the intricately adorned leotards of the three Mongolian gymnasts who contort together and alone in the most mesmerizing ways.
The name “Kooza” is inspired by the Sanskrit word koza, meaning box, chest or treasure so is an utterly appropriate title for a show that represents such an eclectic mix of contemporary circus art. It really is circus for everyone… joyous, unpretentious and a great mix of acts. The fact that it features some of the best circus performers in the world gives an added thrill. And, as if that is not enough for complete satisfaction, there is even a confetti cannon.