By Ansharah Shakil, September 15 2023—
On Aug. 30, Cirque du Soleil began its six-week run of the internationally acclaimed show KOOZA, presented by Sun Life, performing under the Big Top on Stampede Park. The opening night of the show held plenty of treats for attendees, from free Village Ice Cream to the circus’s 360 photo booth to pre-show entertainment of performers walking on stilts, handing out clown noses whose packaging said, “Because life needs folly.”
It’s an endearing sentiment and one that the show itself certainly proved. A little bit of silliness is always welcome in our lives, especially when it takes the form of something this entertaining, and audiences were ready before the show even began. Pre-show excitement filled the corners of the smoky tent as circus members weaved through the crowd, joking and throwing popcorn at audience members until the show started.
KOOZA marks the first time since 2019 that Cirque du Soleil has performed in Calgary, and this return is certainly triumphant. A family-friendly show with a hypnotizing band and astonishing acrobatics, the main plot describes the arrival of the Innocent (Canadian Cédric Bélisle) into an eccentric and fascinating kingdom, led by the Trickster (Joey Vice), who swaggers across the stage with a suave, compelling confidence.
The Innocent goes through a portal to another world, but so does the audience. In all the sparkling chaos of the show, when they weren’t laughing or cheering, audience members were holding their breath watching circus members perform daring stunts. KOOZA contains all the circus classics, like the double high-wire and acrobatic feats of grace, and the vivid costuming and makeup for every performer add to the atmosphere of the show.
Acts like gold-draped contortionists and stunning aerialists flying across the stage on red silk as well as the chilling Wheel of Death, where two performers first run across then jump in then skip rope on top of a dangerous-looking contraption of two connection wheels, were some of the most impressive parts of the show. The audience gasped almost the entire runtime of the Wheel of Death act, hollering like it was a sports match. It’s that part of KOOZA that’s the most entertaining: the real excitement of watching performers do things that seem impossible.
That’s not to mention the enthralling Ukranian duo unicycle pair of Dmytro Dudnyk and Anastasiia Shkandybina, the latter of whom is eventually balanced on top of Dudnyk’s head while he’s still riding the unicycle. The predictable acts of the king and his attendants are less exciting, but their playful antics, whether it was running through the crowd taking purses or bringing a member of the audience up on stage to duel the king, charmed the crowd.
KOOZA is thrilling and delightfully weird. Its talented cast might leap across (and bike across) a tightrope, but they aren’t afraid to walk the wire and fall, to be too strange or dangerous or disturbing. They flirt with death and work together seamlessly on stage during elaborate dance numbers and careful tricks with complete trust. There’s a net below the performers when they jump, of course, but more often than not they’re relying on each other and their own bodies to create the entertainment of the show. To watch them is to be in awe of what they can make their bodies do, contort and jump and land with both feet on the ground.
While KOOZA is a freeing, inhibition-less show of family fun, it has its darker moments, too. The second half of the show launches right into the intriguingly creepy Skeleton Dance, but the music skillfully balances the lightness and darkness of the show. There’s something for everybody here. Along with being humorous and fascinating, it’s a treat for the eyes and an adrenaline-filled experience you won’t forget.
Tickets for KOOZA, running until Oct. 8, can be found on the Cirque du Soleil website.