—Kooza, Cirque du Soleil
As the latest edition of Cirque du Soleil settles in under the striped big top across from BC Place for its month-long run, Vancouverites have access to more first-rate theatrical choices this summer than I can ever remember: an amazing Lion King, four terrific Bard on the Beach Shakespeares plus an Equity Co-op Twelfth Night, the hugely entertaining 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, a star-laden Glengarry Glen Ross, Theatre Under the Stars’ two musicals, plus Hair, The China Tea Deal in the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Gardens, and even a new production of No Sex Please, We’re British.
And now Kooza. This spectacular mélange of comedy and mind-bending acrobatics is easily one of the best Cirque du Soleil shows ever to hit our town.
Although every new Cirque features some unbelievable acrobatics, previous versions have been acrobatically underwhelming in places. Not so in Kooza. I’ve also noted at times an excess of the generally incomprehensible and largely irrelevant narrative meant to tie a show together. Here the narrative is minimal, and minimally intrusive—an innocent boy with a kite gets exposed to wonders delivered by a whirling dervish Trickster (although it’s still the least interesting element of the evening). Most seriously, the last Cirque show to visit us, Corteo, suffered from an awful lot of lame comedy. Kooza’s comedy is fantastically funny, led by a king and his two jesters, one of them our rubber-limbed old friend Colin Heath, returned from exile in Toronto. Kooza’s comic disruptions explode into the audience a lot, with hilarious results. Only one false note was struck the entire evening—a lame and obnoxious pickpocketing routine that goes on far too long.
As for those acrobats—wow! Act One features a contortionist with a rubber band for a spine (how do her internal organs survive her act??), a girl on a trapeze, a fabulous unicycle routine (the guy rides while the girl does amazing things on his shoulders, arms, head), and a high-wire act where four men defy gravity on two wires. Act Two opens with what I and most of the rest of the preview audience thought was the most exciting and dynamic of the acrobatic treats: the Wheel of Death is a large balance beam with a ten-foot diameter hoop at each end. Two men make the bar spin, one inside one of the hoops, the other on top of the other hoop. It’s utterly exhilarating to watch. A girl spinning a half-dozen hula-sized hoops on various parts of her body while doing various contortions is also very cool, as is a guy who balances on top of a dozen or so chairs. The finale, as usual, features a large troupe of impressive gymnasts, this time flinging each other off teeter-totters. The highlights are a guy doing a double back-flip on stilts and a girl doing a triple on a single stilt.
Describing these acts is such a poor substitute for seeing them, especially against the usual gorgeous Cirque backdrop, accompanied by its energetic music (played by a small onstage band and featuring a pretty great drum solo). This is spectacle entertainment of the very first order. Highly recommended.