Cirque du Soleil shows have always overlaid a patina of European esoterica otherness to their shows: Weird traveling minstrels in eclectic costumes, gibberish-language lyrics to their world-music style accompaniments, fantastical elements in between the acrobatic acts. Kooza, playing under the big tent in the shadow of Reunion Tower, is no exception.
And yet, somehow it is.
Yes, there’s a mythical through-line dealing with The Trickster, who is somehow taunting The Innocent with his phantasmagorical magic act that introduces three dozen performers. But there’s also something you rarely experience at a Cirque show: English. Characters talk to the audience not in a made-up language, but vernacular; a real magician invites an audience member on stage and strips his pockets bear of wallet and more like he’s in Las Vegas; the clowns — and there’s a lot of clowning here, more than in most Cirque productions — talk to us. And the music, while still slightly otherworldly, sounds more like a mix of jazz and mariachi than Klingon mating songs.
It’s as if Cirque has come down du Soleil and is now de la Terre.
Kooza has a familiarity that makes it seem like more traditional circuses: No elephants, perhaps, it feels more — for want of a better word — American. One of the most stunning acts is a couple who perform a kind of ballet on a unicycle. It’s almost prosaic, but also dazzling in its simplicity.
There are many moments in Kooza that dazzle, even though many of the acts are part-and-parcel with the traditions of circuses: Tight rope walking, contortionism, tumbling and comedy. (A man in a dog suit literally pees on the audience; gotta love that.) But each of the acts also seems to up the ante, turning an initially “seen that before” reaction into an eye-popping display that tingles the withers. Two men on a revolving set of rings defy gravity while flying through the air … and almost falling. A high-wire act including a man leap-frogging over his comrade, only to regain his footing before falling 30 feet; vertebrae-free Asian girls twist themselves like licorice into a human totem pole (I bet when they perform “YMCA,” they can spell out the entire lyric with their bodies).
And, as we have come to expect with Cirque du Soleil, there’s a physical beauty to it all, from the curvy women to the hyper-masculinized muscle men. (The acrobat who climbs to the top of a stack of chairs appears to have about three percent body fat.) It’s hard not to enjoy a show where hot guys preen around for three hours in acts of derring-do. And you get to eat popcorn.