Left – Wheel of death artists. Photo – Matt Beard. Costumes – Marie Chantale Vaillancourt. Cover – Wheel of Death. Photo – Tomas Correa Arce. Costumes – Marie Chantale Vaillancourt
A young boy, innocently playing with his kite, is unexpectedly presented with a strange gift that explodes with a genie-style sorcerer who leads him into an extraordinary world of magic, mystery and dazzling wonder around him.
The ‘storyline’, such as it is, behind Cirque du Soleil’s current show, Kooza, is far from original. But where Cirque du Soleil shines is that its performances always hit the sweet spot between fun and functional, technical perfection and dream-weaver. It goes without saying that the artists are but the tip of the iceberg of directors, choreographers, costume and set designers, musicians and organisers behind the scenes, and it is the teamwork that really shines.
But it is the artists who astound each night (and matinee) by performing some of the most jaw-dropping stunts and extreme examples of physical capabilities that you will see outside of the Olympic Games – without the dodgy costumes and tinny soundtrack.
This is Cirque’s eighth Grand Chapiteau tour of Australia (and Kooza’s 10th anniversary year) yet it’s as fresh – and possibly even more impressive – than any I’ve seen.
It’s hard to believe that the Quebec-based company began with a troupe of 20 street performers in 1984. It now employs about 4,000 people involved in a number of arena, resident and touring shows around the globe, including 1,300 artists from about 50 countries. The Kooza tour crew numbers 110, plus attendant family members, with another 120 hired locally.
Most of the traditional circus arts are embraced by Kooza’s multinational cast of 50 performers, who are chosen from 20 different countries for their specialist skills.
Contortionists can always draw admiration for those of us happy to be able to touch our toes, but the strong Cirque team experiments with some mind-bending balances and dramatic physical sculptures.
The aerial hoop explores speed, spins and swooping passes of the stage at a lightening pace that is dizzying to watch, while the highwire act combines four walkers over two wires who test their own limits with jumps, fencing battles and on-wire balancing acts that had the audience holding its collective breath.
Both the “simple” chair-balancing acts and the hoops are elevated to head-shaking levels of dexterity, co-ordination and strength, purely due to the impressive degree of expertise on show, while the teeter-board crew challenge themselves with complexities and contraptions that make you wonder ‘what were they thinking?’ You can simply tell these artists are at the cutting edge of their skill’s development, and are setting new standards.
The international flavour is also represented throughout the show in the ever-changing sea of costumes worn by the ‘chorus’ of acrobats, as well as the live soundtrack performed by the band sitting high above the main stage in a ‘Bataclan’ tower that is central to the simple yet atmospheric set. The house troupe of acrobats, who alternate with the clowns to entertain between acts, first appear as cheerful tin soldiers worthy of a German fairytale, then – as the mood darkens – open the second half as a clattering of skeletons echoing a Voodoo-cum-Day of the Dead jazz vibe, followed by Bollywood styling and Middle-Eastern notes.
Coulrophobics will be pleased to hear there’s not a red nose nor pair of long feet anywhere to be seen in the clown act. Instead there’s a King (of Fools?) with two attendant jesters who drag the occasional ‘volunteer’ on stage and cavort around clumsily in a way only the most elegant, controlled actors can.
The ‘Innocent’ young boy, who is both central to the show and totally irrelevant, appears regularly but in a less obtrusive way than some of the early attempts by Cirque to theme their performances. The company was one of the earliest – possibly the first – to add this artistic element to circus acts and occasionally got a bit carried away with the idea, but Kooza reflects a greater emphasis on basic acrobatic endeavour. For my money, it’s hit a winning formula.
Cirque du Soleil presents
Venue: Flemington Racecourse
Dates: Until March 26 2017
Tickets: $60 – $365