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Cirque du Soleil’s KOOZA a mind-boggling spectacle

New Cirque du Soleil show KOOZA has it all, including scene-stealing cameo by Mayor Dave Bronconnier.

by Dan Leahul

Despite being a Cirque du Soleil rookie, I wasn’t completely in the dark about what to expect during my first trip under the Grand Chapiteau. I knew I was in for a visual spectacle, with daring acrobatics and death-defying stunts, all mixed-in with a healthy dose of slapstick francophone wit.

What I didn’t expect, however, was how much I would love it. How many times I would gasp for air, or have to wipe tears out of my eyes from laughing so hard. It was pure entertainment and an emotional experience: at times dark and macabre, often hilarious, often raunchy, but always captivating. It was something I haven’t felt in years; everyone is a kid under the Cirque du Soleil big top.

For those like me, who have never seen the show, it’s only natural to assume a pose of cynicism or doubt, a sarcastic attitude of “let’s see them entertain me”. It didn’t take long. The excitement in the air was palpable while stepping through the gates.

KOOZA's The Wheel of Death

Nearly 3,000 people were packed to the rafters in lot 6 of Stampede Park. The show started lighthearted enough, with the introduction of KOOZA’s main characters, The Innocent, who is invited by The Trickster to enter his circus world where the king is a clown.

The lavish, colourful costumes and over-the-top stage presence gave the performers instant personality. From the opening act, you are emotionally invested into KOOZA. All you can do is strap yourself in and enjoy the ride.

The live band was a nice touch and provided an uplifting soundtrack for the program, not to mention the quintessential drumrolls during the show’s more terrifying stunts.

First, as a warm-up, two-dozen performers hit the stage for a number of circus acts: leaping, tumbling and throwing, as well as balancing and rolling on large balls (and in turn balancing on a ball on top of another’s head, who is also standing on a ball, and so on).

Then the contortionists are rolled out on stage as a couple of intertwined pretzels. Certainly not an act for the squeamish, I couldn’t help but cringe when the contortionist’s bottom rests on the back of her own head (think about it), while supporting the full weight of the other, arching her body into something equally mind-bending.

The solo trapeze act was impressive, and anyone who’s tried to ride a unicycle knows how difficult it can be, especially with someone else standing on your head.

After these stunts is the welcome comedic relief. The king and his two clowns are genuinely funny and the poor, unfortunate souls they plucked from the audience as volunteers held their own against the professional jokesters, and coaxed huge laughs from the audience in their own respect.

But the laughter soon ends when the high wire set-up is lowered from the top of the tent. Four performers balance on the contraption at once and jig and leap over each other before the grand finale of the first act: the high-wire bicycle-ride chair-balance mash-up, which simply has to be seen to be believed.

Intermission is more or less a chance to catch one’s breath and a half-hour later comes KOOZA’s most incredible spectacle, something Cirque du Soleil calls “The Wheel of Death”.

As difficult to perform as, I’m sure, it is to put into words, two acrobats propel the wheel at heart-stopping speeds, powered only by themselves, leaping and counter-weighting in a death-defying display of fearless acrobatics and astonishing teamwork. The Wheel of Death is worth the price of admission alone.

Next, Michael, the hilarious pickpocket magician constantly on the run from the police throughout the show, picks a volunteer from the audience, which in this case, happens to be Calgary Mayor Dave Bronconnier.

Bronco is unwittingly led on stage and proceeds to help Michael perform a number of magic tricks, all the while being lifted of his personal possessions—his wallet, watch, cell phone, cash and keys, somehow, even his tie—before being ushered back to his seat. Very funny, despite your political leanings.

The rest of the show, for lack of a better word, is standard circus fair, although remember, this is Cirque du Soleil. I feel it necessary to omit the remaining acts to preserve an element of surprise if you do see the show, something I urge you to do.

KOOZA runs until October 24.

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