Originally published in Catalyst Magazine.
The first circus performance I ever saw was in the car park of a local shopping centre. It was one of those travelling circuses, and I was quite young, but I remember it clearly.
There was something about it that I found so fascinating, but I’d never been able to explain what that ‘something’ was.
That was, until I saw Cirque du Soleil’s Kooza.
The show’s season here in Melbourne began on the 20th of January, premiering to a capacity crowd under the Big Top at Flemington Racecourse.
Leading up to the performance, I had no idea what to expect. I’d never seen a Cirque du Soleil show before, but its surreal tone was set from the moment we entered. Despite only being in the foyer, it felt as though we had transcended into another dimension.
As we got into our seats, the pre-show shenanigans were underway. Here, we were introduced to the King and his two clowns. They would provide the comic relief throughout the show, entering at the perfect moments to reset the crowd. Always following the most intense stunts.
Through these characters, Kooza hits the balance between humour and acrobatics perfectly.
Along with the lights, the shenanigans eventually began to fade, and the curtains, like giant wings, closed. The show was about to begin.
A small, somewhat bumbling clown protagonist aptly known as The Innocent appears from the side of the stage. Covered in grey, he’s portrayed as a lost soul. He attempts to fly a kite, to no avail.
He receives a mysterious, jack-in-the-box-type package, from which our second protagonist emerges. At first glance, I thought The Trickster was a mannequin.
That was before he exploded out of the box, of course.
Painted in direct contrast to The Innocent, The Trickster takes both him and the audience under his wing. Through his arrival on stage, the world of Kooza begins. This also prompts The Innocent’s clothes to change from a dull grey to blue and orange, matching the colours of The Trickster’s eloquent outfit.
I still have no idea how they did that.
Guidance is a motif prevalent throughout the show, as The Innocent is taken on a pilgrimage of sorts through Kooza—a hidden world of magic and performance. In a sense, this is reflective of Cirque du Soleil, as they take each audience on a journey of wonder and discovery—night after night, show after show.
With the underlying Innocent/Trickster story arc, the show was split into performances of six and seven acts, with an intermission in between.
Highlights included the high wire performance, in which performers would ride a bike along a trapeze wire, all while pretending to struggle; and the ‘Skeleton Dance’, an exuberant homage to Day of the Dead celebrations.
Early on, there was a contortion act. I’m constantly in awe of anyone who can bend so far backwards that their head pokes through their legs.
The absolute standout, however, was the 1,600-pound Wheel of Death. With the only ‘safety’ precaution being the padded floor, it was by far the show’s riskiest stunt.
The two performers appeared to float in midair with ease, as they spun the giant double-wheeled contraption with their body weights. Raw human strength was on display here, at its finest. Words truly cannot do this act justice.
This was so much more than just a circus performance. It felt like a full-fledged theatre production. The show was accompanied by a live band, boasting two vocalists. Each performance came with a unique soundtrack, emanating a combination of jazz, funk, and Bollywood sounds.
The band’s drummer even performed a solo in the middle of the stage, a testament to Kooza’s brilliant ability to capture the tight unity between music and performance.
Kooza is the essence of what a circus should be.
It encapsulates both the joy and the awe of a live act, with incredible precision.
By the end of the show The Innocent finds himself alone on stage once again, yet this time, he is able to fly his kite successfully.
Perhaps this is a metaphor for the enlightening, pilgrimage-type power of a Cirque du Soleil performance.
After all, Kooza certainly enlightened me. It helped me to find that ‘something’ that I find so fascinating about the circus.
Maybe it’ll do the same for you.
Kooza, by Cirque du Soleil, is showing in Melbourne until March 26.
See www.cirquedusoleil.com/kooza for more information.
Images by Matt Beard.