Cirque du Soleil
Skygate, next to Brisbane Airport DFO
November 24 2016 – January 8 2017
Reviewed by Xanthe Coward
Which Cirque du Soleil shows have you seen? Australia has seen eight:
Quidam – Dralion – Varekai – OVO – TOTEM – Michael Jackson THE IMMORTAL World Tour – Saltimbanco – KOOZA
KOOZA (since 2007) is touted as being Cirque du Soleil’s best show yet, but it’s not my favourite. It’s light and bright and lots of fun without delving too deeply into the psyche or anything overly social or political. And, in times of trouble in the world, apparently that’s just what we need.
As the court clowns and the foolish footmen build the tension of a new show the king shuts off the lights… the show has begun. One spotlight appears…a clown…”the innocent ” trying to fly a kite, a large box appears and out comes the trickster. Who will be the KOOZA?
– Poppy Eponine
KOOZA is not entirely without narrative and some would say it’s the most simple and effective story of all (there have been some convoluted plots in the past, let’s be honest). This one features a powerful Trickster (Vladislav Zolotarev), who springs from a box to lead the Innocent, a naive and charming clown (Joey Arrigo), on a fantastical journey through fun times with new funny friends to find his place in the world. It’s a wafer thin classic quest premise, a young hero’s journey – the Innocent’s gotta’ find his corner of the sky – and by combining acrobatics and the art of clowning, we get the best of all aspects of traditional circus (Creator and Director David Shiner).
KOOZA comprises many disparate pieces, something for everyone, and boasts an Olympics worthy international ensemble of acrobats, contortionists and aerial artists. KOOZA might be the first Cirque you’ve ever seen, in which case you won’t look for deeper meaning and you’ll probably see this company’s most exciting and death defying acts straight up.
On opening night we were privileged to see Queenslander, Lisa Skinner, on the aerial hoop, her act fast and furious; she just a whirl of bright colour high above our heads, and spinning until blurry, toes barely touching the ground, centrestage. Barely into the same act during Sunday’s matinee, Skinner fell from a height of almost 5 metres and landed face first on the floor, sustaining injuries for which she was treated before being taken by ambulance to hospital. My sister (a stage manager) wasn’t calling Sunday’s show, she saw the accident on the monitor backstage. Our parents were in the audience and my mum cried out, along with hundreds of other horrified witnesses. They said Skinner looked as if she might be dead, with her neck resting at an odd angle. Fortunately, Skinner is recovering well. Having already undergone shoulder reconstruction before the commencement of this tour, she must be devastated to miss performing in front of her home crowd for the remainder of the season.
The contortionists deliver an exquisite act of ancient serpentine elegance and humour, their bodysuits, of jewels and earth, glistening as they bend and twist and impossibly pose (Sunderiya Jargalsaikhan, Ninjin Altankhuyag & Odgerel Byambadorj). A unicycle duo delight (Olga Tutynina & Yury Shavro), teeterboard acrobats defy gravity, high wire antics thrill, and the balancing chair act elicits gasps of genuine disbelief and awe (Yao Deng Bo). Yao Deng Bo is my favourite performer, the epitome of focus, strength, balance, grace and old world circus charm.
The Wheel of Death (or, more philosophically and psychoanalytically, The Wheel of Life-Death-Life) proves itself the highlight of the show, although we missed much of it due to the sweat sheet and poor sight lines behind a lighting truss in our seating section. The Columbian acrobats, Ronald Montes & Jimmy Zapata actually risk their lives during this performance; it’s terrifying to watch. I wish we’d been able to see more of it. KOOZA is the first Cirque show to incorporate front of house lighting, requiring the trusses spaced throughout the Grand Chapiteau, and I wonder if it’s the last. The little we were able to see of the skilled artist leaping above the arm of one of these towers was indeed impressive, as he ran and rose magically from the hamster wheel on one end of the turning mechanism, but it lacked tension and thrill factor for us. The same problem applied to the double high wire act and we heard a number of disgruntled audience members around us. Do these people offer their feedback to the company? I hope they do, and I hope, rather than giving a 1-star rating on Trip Advisor or Facebook, they simply advise friends to book seats in a different section. Poppy had an ideal view from Section 200, where she was sitting with her cousins, and she could not stop talking about these amazing acts for days.
The contortionist act was spellbinding but still second-best to THE WHEEL OF DEATH (dah dah dah!). How Ronald Solis Montes & Jimmy Ibarra Zapata amazingly survive the wheel of death time & time again I do not know.
– Poppy Eponine
A tight band under the direction of Carl Murr, and powerhouse singer, clad in rich, colourful silks (Jennlee Shallow), deliver KOOZA’s original jazz, funk and Bollywood styled music with gusto. The beautiful, magical structure that holds them, a tall, ornately carved, cylindrical timber tower, the Bataclan, glides forward to feature the musicians and then backwards to serve as an entrance and exit for various acts (Designer Stephanie Roy). It’s a glorious piece of design, fully integrated into the show. I love the way our Australian percussionist (Adelaide’s Ben Todd) is brought out into centrestage to be featured, just as each acrobat takes his or her turn in the spotlight. And spilling from the doorway (only to be chased by a Death Cape destined pack of 150 fake fur rats), I enjoyed the exuberant Day of the Dead dance; it’s a theme from which I’d love to see Cirque draw more heavily.
Irina Akimova’s hoop manipulation is also highly entertaining but it’s her magnificent feathered coat, the standout costume in this show, that leaves a lasting impression. The KOOZA costumes, designed by Marie-Chantale Vaillancourt, are inspired by comic books and graphic novels, the work of Gustav Klimt, Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz. (You’ll see the influence of the flying monkeys on the faces of the acrobats on the double high wire). In KOOZA we see much more from the clowns than in previous Cirque shows and rather than use gibberish to communicate, these clowns speak English. It takes away a little of their charm but it means that every punch line lands just right. The King (Gordon White) and his court jesters (Michael Garner & Michael Berlanga) are clearly adored by the vast majority.
KOOZA is guaranteed quality from the world’s best circus creatives and a collective of 50 performing artists/super humans, and it’s super fun for the whole family. I would never miss a Cirque show and nor should you.