Cirque du Soleil
At the Aria
By Dan Zeff
LAS VEGAS—“Zarkana” is the latest Cirque du Soleil mega production to take residence in Las Vegas. The show opened in November, enclosed in a vast and opulent theater at the Aria resort on the Strip. It replaces “Viva Elvis,” a rare Cirque dud. “Zarkana” show breaks no new ground in the 25-year old Cirque du Soleil tradition. If you are happy with the Cirque style of entertainment, you should get lots of pleasure from “Zarkana,” accepting the proposition that you can never have too much of a good thing. If you are seeking a new and innovative amusement experience carrying the Cirque du Soleil brand, the show may breed some discontent.
“Zarkana” takes the audience on a typical Cirque du Soleil journey into an exotic, sometimes grotesque fantasy world. Like most Cirque shows, there is a thread of a narrative, but it’s impossible to keep track of the plot line throughout the 90-minute evening. The show is opened by master of ceremonies/magician Zark (Paul Bisson, who bears a remarkable resemblance to Chicago television personality Svengooli). Zark returns to an abandoned theater and with the assistance of a clutch of weirdo humanoid figures he tries to organize a show. That’s as much plot as I discerned.
“Zarkana” is actually a string of unrelated circus acts, a few of startling originality and many familiar from other shows.The trappings of the production are pure Cirque du Soleil. Characters speak in an unintelligible pseudo language that sounds part French and part Spanish and part Italian. The live percussion-heavy orchestra pounds out a continuous stream of rhythmic high decibel musical accompaniment. A pair of female vocalists sings their gibberish lyrics with much expression, suggesting that they understand the lyrics even if the listener is baffled.
The visuals are stunning, as usual in a Cirque production, with a blend of projections and lighting that maximize the theater’s high tech resources. For lovers of sensory overload, “Zarkana” will not disappoint.
The show gets off to a rousing start with Masha Choodu, a lady juggler of remarkable skills and invention. What she does with tennis balls at warp speed velocity is extraordinary. The most novel act of the evening is delivered by Vira Sivirotkina, a woman who manually creates sand paintings on the surface of what looks like an ornate barrelhead. The pictures are then projected onto a large screen above the stage. It’s a remarkable exercise in dexterity and imagination and the production could use more like her. A troupe of young men make a poetic exercise out of tossing large billowing flags back and forth, an outwardly simple act that demands pinpoint discipline and timing in its execution.
The program also includes a number of acts that patrons will recognize from other Cirque shows. There is a high-risk hand balancing act and a high wire act, both proficient but nothing I haven’t seen before. One act I have seen several times that still knocks me out is the Wheel of Death. Two men scramble on and within a giant rotating pendulum called the Wheel of Death. The men wear no safety cables as they clamber all over the fast-moving pendulum, sometimes jumping rope as they maintain their balance. If this isn’t a death-defying act, it definitely invites the possibility of grievous bodily harm.
A company of trapeze artists is sensational, performing multiple somersaults high above the vast stage with breathtaking precision and only one or two excusable misfires. Seven men perform a group act on hoops called Cyr wheels that was as remarkable for its multi-media whiz-bang as for its real life performance. “Zarkana” is strong on acrobats, the featured act being a company called Banquine that presents 15 gymnasts performing all manner of impressive acrobat maneuvers and pyramids.
Lamentably, “Zarkana” reserves an excessive amount of stage time for two clowns. In the many Cirque du Soleil shows I’ve seen the clowns have been relentlessly unfunny, mugging and pratfalling for endless minutes (I’ve never found the Ringling Brothers clowns funny either so maybe I am resistant to this type of circus comedy). In any case, the “Zarkana” clowns go on and on, though the audience seemed to enjoy them either because the viewers actually thought they were funny or the patrons were sympathetically responding to the huffing and puffing the performers were putting into their routines.
Compared to other Cirque shows in Las Vegas, “Zarkana” is leisurely in its pace. A little less faux operatic singing by Zark and a little more energy in the staging would accelerate the production’s momentum and dissipate the occasional dead spots. But overall “Zarkana” is a worthy addition to the Cirque Las Vegas stable, not at the same level as “O” and “Love,” the gold standards for Cirque shows on the Strip, and just below the long running “Mystere,” but definitely on a higher plane than “Ka” and “Zumanity.” I haven’t seen the seventh show, “Criss Angel: Believe,” about which opinion seems to be divided. “Zarkana” will work best with audiences attending their first Cirque du Soleil performance, when everything will seem novel and eye opening. Veteran Cirque patrons could find the show over familiar, though the juggler and the sand painter are worth the price of admission by themselves. And the theater itself is a stunner.
“Zarkana” is playing an open run at the Aria resort, 3730 Las Vegas Boulevard. Performances are Friday through Tuesday at 7 and 9:30 p.m. Tickets are $69 to $180. Call 877 253 5847 or visit www.cirquedusoleil.com/zarkana.
The show gets a rating of three stars.
Contact Dan at firstname.lastname@example.org. December 2012
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at the Allstate Arena
by Dan Zeff
Rosemont—The Cirque du Soleil production of “Dralion” should be the most fun for audiences unfamiliar with the Cirque’s unique blend of spectacle and variety acts. For veteran observers, the law of diminishing returns may be setting in.
“Dralion” is playing a split run locally, the first week at the Allstate Arena in Rosemont and the second week at the United Center in Chicago.
During the late 1980’s and 1990’s, the Cirque wowed audiences throughout the world with its fresh and audacious revisionist approach to the traditional circus. Gone were the animal acts, the ringmaster, and the raucous brass band. Instead, the Cirque emphasized modern technology, striking special effects, dramatic lighting, and imaginative costumes. The band leaned heavily on Third World and New Age music, enhanced by a pair of leather-lunged female singers. The spectacle was exotic, sometimes grotesque, and dazzling.
The Cirque is now a worldwide institution, with six shows playing in Las Vegas alone, but the novelty has dissipated with time. There is still plenty of visual creativity in shows like “Dralion,” but we’ve seen much of it before. The variety performers remain world class, but the hand balancing act, the trampoline artists, the juggler, the hoop jumpers, and the contortionists are all familiar from other Cirque shows.
“Dralion” premiered in 1999 and has been revised to fit into arenas instead of the giant big tops of previous tours. But the show still offers plenty of bang for the buck, especially for first time viewers. Because “Dralion” is a touring show, it necessarily must sacrifice some of the pageantry that illuminates the permanent shows in Las Vegas and elsewhere. Still, much of the production is eye filling with its colorful and extravagant costumes and lighting effects. The accompanying small orchestra is outstanding, highlighted by the pulsating rhythms of the two percussionists.
Photo Credit: Daniel Desmarais
The company is large and skilled--52 performers from 14 countries, with a pronounced Chinese look to the ensemble. Some variety acts still have the power to extracts oohs and aahs from the spectators. The stunner of the evening is Marie-Eve Bisson, who performs high above the stage in a hoop, risking life and limb with a remarkable display of acrobatics and balance, ending with am astounding blurring sequence of spins. Basile Dragon dropped a few balls during his juggling act but those glitches only underscored the brilliance of the remainder of his performance. The pas de deux by Lorant Markocsany and Amanda Orozco was a soaring exhibition of aerial grace. The solo hand balancing by Han Yuzhen was superb, but the contortionist-and-balancing act by a group of six young ladies was a disappointment.
The hoop diving act has appeared in other Cirque shows but a troupe of young men still executes marvels of timing and agility as they dive through an arrangement of hoops. On opening night the diving accuracy came up short a few times, knocking over several hoops, but overall the act was still a great cloud pleaser, as was a massed rope-skipping act that included a pyramid of performers rhythmically jumping over a moving jump rope.
The show is presented with no dialogue and no storyline though, as usual, there the Cirque proclaims a theme that will be virtually undetectable by the average viewer. The press release claims the show derives much of its inspiration from Eastern philosophy with its perpetual quest for harmony between humanity and nature. The name “Dralion” is taken from two symbols, the dragon, representing the East, and the lion, representing the West. Well, maybe, but audiences can be excused from recognizing all that profundity. For many viewers, there is pleasure enough in watching the variety acts plus massed performers cavorting in wild costumes.
Photo Credit: Daniel Desmarais
Unfortunately, along with its pageantry and outstanding variety acts, the Cirque du Soleil has established a tradition of presenting relentlessly unhumorous clowns, firmly upheld in “Dralion.” A team of three clowns (often joined by a plant from the audience) goes through a series of ostentatiously dreary routines that vividly demonstrate the gulf between clowning that tries to be funny and clown that really is funny. I didn’t crack one smile during all the interminable mugging and prancing and braying, though many members of the audience seemed to find the clowns amusing. I’ve seen at least a dozen Cirque du Soleil shows and I don’t recall a single clown act worth its abundant stage time.
“Dralion” runs through Sunday at the Allstate Arena, 6920 North Manheim Road, and June 27 through July 1 at the United Center, 1901 west Madison Street. Performances are Wednesday through Friday at 7:30 p.m., Saturday at 3:30 and 7:30 p.m., and Sunday at 1 and 4 p.m. Most tickets are $28 to $80. Call 800 745 3000 or visit www.cirquedusoleil.com/dralion.
Driver alert: parking costs cash only $20 per vehicle.
The show gets a rating of three stars.
Contact Dan at email@example.com. June 2012
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At the United Center
By Dan Zeff
Chicago—The current Cirque du Soleil production in Chicago is called “Ovo” and is set in a fantastical world of insects. As exotic Cirque concepts go, the sight of dozens of actors costumed as bugs scurrying around the stage is entertaining enough. But the real glory of “Ovo” resides in the astonishing quality of the circus acts. I’ve seen lots of Cirque du Soleil shows but none of them has graded out as highly as “Ovo” in the consistent skill and creativity and excitement of their circus artists.
“Ovo” is the 25th Cirque show in the organization’s history and the 10th to visit the Chicago area. The show is installed in a large tent complex at the United Center. The director/choreographer is Deborah Colker from Brazil and she has orchestrated a visually pleasing production that avoids a lot of the pretentious pageantry that has afflicted so many previous Cirque presentations.
“Ovo” means “egg” in Portuguese and a large egg was carried on and off stage from time to time for no recognizable purpose. The insect theme gave costume designer Liz Vandal the opportunity to create some clever outfits to represent ants, cockroaches, spiders, mosquitoes, grasshoppers, fleas, etc. etc. etc.
There is some attempt to weave the insect theme into the circus acts, notably when aerialist Marjorie Nantel sinuously emerged from a gossamer fabric cocoon while clinging to a rope well above the stage. But mostly the insects provided visual eye candy for the stunning array of circus artists.
“Ovo” exhibits some traditional circus skills, like hand balancing and trapeze work. But familiarity breeds nothing but admiration. We’ve seen some of this artistry before, but rarely at this level of achievement. My favorite performer was Tony Frebourg, who accomplished wonders with a flexible thin cable and one, then two, then three, then four spools that he tossed into the air with astonishing facility. As juggling acts go, this was as good as it gets.
Li Wei, dressed as a firefly, performed on a slack wire, at one time on a unicycle and another time on his head. Like so many other Cirque acts, the man made it look easy, masking the act’s considerable physical risk. Li Wei was as graceful and inventive as he was fearless and the audience roared throughout his performance.
The Russian husband and wife team of Svitlana Kasherova and Dmytro Orel also pushed the envelope on danger with their flying through the air anchored only by hand straps.
Another stunner was the exhibition of foot juggling by five petite young females. Lying on their backs, they foot juggled giant slices of kiwi fruit, ears of corn, and each other. It was a feast of synchronized dexterity.
Perhaps the most inventive act of the
night was provided by Lee Brearley, who occupied a giant flexible suit that
suggested a caterpillar and insinuated itself around the stage like a giant
slinky toy. At first look, several performers seemed to occupy the interior of
the costume, each individual rhythmically moving in different directions, but
it was Brearley’s one-man act and an ingenious one.
The second act finale displayed a troupe of 10 trampoline artists, outfitted like crickets, who bounced with limitless energy from the stage floor to an artificial wall at the rear of the stage. I’d seen this act in an earlier Cirque show but its velocity and daring were as fresh as ever.
Lamentably, the “Ovo” clowns were just as tedious as the clowns in every Cirque show I’ve ever seen. As usual the clowns blustered and pratfalled to almost zero comic effect, climaxed by an interminable second act segment only partly relieved by bringing a pair of spectators from the audience to engage in some sophomoric hi jinx. The spectators seemed to enjoy it, which shows once again there is no accounting for taste.
The continuous musical accompaniment by the small orchestra was an entertaining mixture of rock, New Age, salsa, bossa nova, a few snatches of Beethoven, and the distinctive world music Cirque sound. The female lead singer was excellent and the violin player first rate. The high quality of the Cirque du Soleil orchestras is undervalued. This ensemble is particularly good.
Each featured act received copious performing time (the trampoline troupe had 20 minutes to demonstrate their bouncing talents), but the show still came in at just under 2 ½ hours. That included a 30-minute intermission that could be spent browsing through the Cirque merchandise tent or standing in line to gain access to the portable restroom facilities. But the performance started precisely on time and the intermission was restricted to those 30 minutes, all further verifications of the professionalism of a Cirque du Soleil show.
“Ovo” runs through August 21 on the grounds of the United Center, 1901 West Madison Avenue. Most performances are Tuesday through Thursday at 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 4 and 8 p.m., and Sunday at 1 and 5 p.m. Tickets for adults are $68.50 to $243.50, with discounts for children 2 to 12, senior citizens, students, and military personnel. Call 1-800 450 1480 or visit www.cirquedusoleil.com/ovo .
Contact Dan at zeffdaniel@Yahoo.com July 2011
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By the Cirque du Soleil
At the Sears Centre Arena
HOFFMAN ESTATES—The Cirque du Soleil has seven shows in permanent residence in Las Vegas. Metropolitan Chicago gets a mere five days of Cirque magic, an eight-performance run of “Alegria” in Hoffman Estates in the western suburbs. Nobody said life was fair.
“Alegria” (Spanish for “joy” or “happiness”) is one of Cirque du Soleil’s older productions, originating in 1994, 10 years after the circus empire was founded in Canada. It began a North American tour last year and is stopping in Hoffman Estates for its too short stop. The brevity of the visit is extra unfortunate because “Alegria” is the Cirque du Soleil at the top of its game. The circus acts are all out of the top drawer in invention and execution and the costumes and music reflect the trademark distinctive Cirque exoticism at its best.
“Alegria” advertises 55 performers from 17 countries, nearly all from eastern and western Europe and North America. A pair of Mongolian girls traveled the farthest, performing a stunning contortion act doubtless made possible because the girls have silly putty instead of bones for skeletons.
Excellence abounds. Two performers from Australia and Switzerland execute athletic and high-risk maneuvers on twin trapezes. A group of performers from all over the world unite to deliver an exciting and graceful exhibition of tumbling and gymnastics with the assistance of a giant floor-level trampoline. A young man (country unspecified) offers a remarkable demonstration of strength and body control in his hand-balancing act. Two young Americans performed a stirring fire dance with flaming knives utilized as burning batons. Another artist from the United States rotates around the stage within a large metal hoop. A Ukrainian juggler keeps what seems like dozens of balls levitating in the air simultaneously.
Two thrill acts aroused the most gasps from the audience. A troupe performed on long thin flexible bars held several feet above the stage, executing somersaults and leaps before landing perfectly on the bars only a few inches wide. And no safety cable or net. Another troupe closes the show with a flawless display of aerial work, flying through the air from a platform high above the floor to be caught at the last instant by a catcher himself hanging from another man anchored to a trapeze. Great stuff.
Music plays an integral role in all Cirque productions. The onstage “Alegria” orchestra provided a sustained flow of melodies and rhythms, including a stretch when it morphed into a solid fusion jazz band highlighted by some first rate saxophone solos. Two female singers contributed the vocals with the traditional unintelligible Cirque lyrics. One singer was dressed in white and the other in black, clearly signifying something symbolic that eluded me. The chorus, for want of a more descriptive term, marched and leaped and strutted in their typically colorful, grotesque Cirque costumes.
As usual, the clown portions were interminable and unfunny. That’s all that can be said about Cirque clowns.
The entire production was blessedly free of the pretentious thematic frou frou that sometimes encumbers a Cirque production. That made “Alegria” an agreeably lean show, running about 2 hours and 10 minutes, including an excessive 30-minute intermission.
I don’t know why Chicagoland was booked for such a short run of “Alegria.” This area has frequently hosted traveling Cirque productions, presumably with satisfactory audience response. Hopefully “Alegria” or one of its fellow productions will come soon and stay longer. The clowns excepted, the Cirque can really put on a terrific show.
“Alegria” runs through Sunday at the Sears Centre Arena, 5333 Prairie Stone Parkway. Weekend performances are 3:30 and 7:30 on Friday and Saturday and 1 and 5 p.m. on Sunday. Tickets are $35 to $75. Call 1 800 745 3000 or visit www.cirquedusoleil.com/alegria.
The show gets a rating of 3½ stars. March 2010
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By the Cirque du Soleil
By Dan Zeff
CHICAGO—First the good news. “Banana Shpeel” offers some first rate circus variety acts. Now the bad news. Everything else about the show is dreadful.
“Banana Shpeel” is the unfortunate title of the Cirque du Soleil entertainment empire’s attempt to extend its reach into vaudeville. The Cirque management chose Chicago as the show’s launching pad, specifically the ornate Chicago Theatre, a seldom used facility today that has show business associations dating back to the early 1920’s.
There were unsettling harbingers of a possible disaster in the weeks before the opening when the Cirque dismissed the two performers set to star in the show and tried to reconstruct the concept on the fly. Spectators at preview performances flooded the Internet with hostile reactions to the production and one entered the Chicago Theatre on opening night hoping against hope that the Cirque artistic team had pulled a show business rabbit out of its hat.
“Banana Shpeel” presents some of the most misguided and unfunny comedy I’ve ever seen on a stage, amateur or professional. Unfortunately, the cluster of clowns in charge of the comedy dominate about half the evening and the high quality of the specialty acts cannot diminish the appalling exercises in coarse humor that ultimately torpedo the entire enterprise.
“Banana Shpeel” attempts to recreate a vaudeville show. No harm in that. About 30 years ago Mickey Rooney starred in a revival of an old time burlesque show called “Sugar Babies” that was great. So it can be done, but not by “Banana Shpeel.
The malefactors in the comedy debacle are a cluster of clowns—noisy, strident, vulgar, and given to routines like continually spitting liquids into the face of a clown colleague. You could sense that even the audience partisans of the show on opening night cringed at this distasteful and mean-spirited rubbish.
The comedy routines run on and on, with the performers trying with rising desperation to make their scenes work, at least a little bit. It’s impossible to assess whether any of the clowns actually have talent, the routines being hopeless from first to last. But none of the men even remotely transcended the mediocrity of their material, and that includes an actor who spends the evening giving what appears to be impersonations of Christopher Lloyd and Kramer from “Seinfeld.” And there was a young Brazilian whose presence in the show must remain a mystery between the performer and the writer.
To protect the innocent, the names of the clowns won’t be listed in these comments. But mention must be made of David Shiner, credited as the director and writer. Shiner has roots in the Cirque du Soleil and presumably possesses strong theatrical instincts. In the very first hour of the first rehearsal Shiner should have recognized that the comedy lacked even the most minimal artistic value. I cringed in my seat as the calamity passed before me. and I wasn’t alone in the audience. If we could see the comic futility on the stage, what couldn’t he? It passeth all understanding.
On the plus side, the show’s band really swings. There is a tap dance number in the second act that is a real rouser, though the previous choreography was generic at best. Dimo Shine contributes a splendid hand balancing act. Vanessa Alvarez had the audience roaring with her dexterous foot balancing act. Jeff Retzlanff and Kelsey Wiens delivered a first rate acrobat and contortion display. Tuan Le showed some fine juggling moves with multiple hats. All these performers reminded the audience that the Cirque du Soleil remains the repository of some of the most creative and athletic circus acts in the world.
If the show had been stripped down to its variety acts, plus dancing on the order of the exhilarating tap dance number, the evening could have been saved. However, the clowns, never funny even in the best Cirque du Soleil productions, must be excised unless thoroughly reconstituted. A narrative framework isn’t mandatory, but the current production just seems to lurch from moment to moment with no unifying spine.
What lies ahead for “Banana Shpeel?” The show is scheduled to open in New York City on February 4. Unless radical changes are made, the show will be massacred by the critics, and rightly so. The Cirque du Soleil has put its brand name on the line with “Banana Shpeel” and right now the organization has much to answer for.
A footnote to the venue. The Chicago Theatre hasn’t been home to live theater in a long time but the “Banana Shpeel” fits nicely on the theater’s proscenium stage, which invites speculation that possibly other, and more meritorious, live shows could be presented there. The theater’s interior remains as ravishing as ever in its baroque elegance,
“Banana Shpeel” runs through January 3 at the Chicago Theatre, 175 North State Street. Performances are Wednesday at 2 and 8 p.m., Thursday and Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 12, 4, and 8 p.m., and Sunday at 1 and 5 p.m. Tickets are $23 to $98. Call 312 462 6300 or visit www.cirquedusoleil.com.
The show gets a rating of 2 stars. December 2009
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Cirque du Soleil preview
At the Chicago Theatre
By Dan Zeff
creators of the upcoming Cirque du Soleil show at the Chicago Theatre insist
this will not be your typical Cirque du Soleil show. Indeed, they describe the
production as almost anti traditional Cirque. Local audiences will be able to
see for themselves when the show opens on November 19, running through January
3. Then it’s off to the Beacon Theatre in New York City for a February opening.
The unconventional sensibility of the new production can be gleaned from its name. Instead of the fanciful foreign sounding titles that typically label a Cirque show, this one calls itself “Banana Shpeel.” The show clearly will be a considerable departure from the Cirque productions that have visited Chicago in their giant tents with the dreamlike lighting and music and fairy tale costuming. Management promises this show will actually speak in English, with none of the New Age linguistic pretensions that mark the usual Cirque du Soleil presentation. In other words, Hold the exotica and lay on the slapstick.
The Cirque creators promise 90 minutes of aggressive fun, very aggressive. The comedy will tend toward clowns belting each other with baseball bats instead of the ethereal whimsy of typical Cirque show. This show will lean on the Marx Brothers and the Three Stooges for its entertainment ambience. “Banana Shpeel” will employ five clowns, and management insists they will be falling down funny, which will be a considerable improvement over the clowns I’d seen in previously Cirque productions, none of whom coaxed so much as a wan smile from me.
The Chicago Theatre show will be pure show business, but updated show business. There will familiar routines from the vaudeville heyday of the early twentieth century, but with a pronounced “now” spin. The dancing will be heavy on hip hop and especially tap dancing. A tap dancer is normally as common in a Cirque du Soleil show as eyebrows on eggs.
The production will have a storyline of sorts, something about a nasty producer auditioning a naïve and romantic actor and luring him into a wild, anarchic world. There is a romance between the actor and a beautiful woman named Katie, but the emphasis is on knockabout comedy and not a tender affair of the heart.
The Chicago Theatre gets the premiere of “Banana Shpeel” because Madison Square Garden Entertainment operates the theater, which has mostly been restricted to rock and pop concerts and the occasional lecture. MSG is producing the show in partnership with talent from the Canadian-based Cirque du Soleil entertainment empire.
The Chicago Theatre facilities have been notoriously inhospitable to musical comedies and plays but the Cirque artistic brain trust is tailoring the show to the capabilities of the venerable building. The creative team insists that “Banana Shpeel” will not be a circus, or a musical, or a variety show, or vaudeville. But the way they describe the production, it will sample all of them, but with a physical, high velocity spin unlike anything in the 25-year Cirque du Soleil repertoire.
The enthusiasm of the artistic team is persuasive. At a press conference, the media heard from Director of Creation Serge Roy and Comic Act Designer Stefan Hayes, along with MSG Entertainment executive Timothy Schmidt. Their exuberance was impressive. They obviously believe they have created something new on the entertaining map. Come November 19 we shall see.
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by the Cirque du Soleil
By Dan Zeff
CHICAGO—There is more circus in the touring Cirque du Soleil production of “Kooza” than any Cirque show I’ve seen in recent years. The production does offer a certain amount of traditional Cirque du Soleil frou-frou, but overall this show grades out to an enormously high standard of pure circus pleasure.
“Kooza” is being performed in a large tent in a parking lot at the UnitedCenter. Because of the limited technical opportunities embedded in a traveling production, “Kooza” doesn’t deal as much in the spectacle and special effects displayed in the permanent Cirque shows in Las Vegas. But the costume budget remains high and the absence of spectacle-based production numbers does free up more time for the circus acts, which are allowed to go on longer than the typical performances in other Cirque shows.
“Kooza” claims to have a theme, something about a young innocent and a character called the Trickster. They meander in and out of the show, accomplishing very little, but they cause no harm and a sensational circus act always follows their departure from the stage.
To dispose of the only negative first, “Kooza” mirrors every other Cirque du Soleil production I’ve seen in its presentation of clown acts that are overlong and dreadfully unfunny. The clowns in “Kooza” squeal and mince about and generally take up an excessive amount of time and space. The head clown, supposedly representing a king, is chiefly of interest because he bears a striking resemblance to Kramer in the “Seinfeld” TV series.
There is one funny audience participation bit involving the clowns and a woman plucked from among the customers, but she turns out to be a plant. And there is a brief giggle from a performer dressed up like a dog who lifts its leg and sprays the first row of the audience. That’s all that can be said about the clowns in “Kooza.”
Unfortunately, no playbills are provided and there are no introductions to the individual acts, so I can’t identify the extraordinary performers by name except that many of them are from the Far East.
The show gets off to a fast start with an astonishing display of contortion manipulation by three young women who must have skeletons made of silly putty. And the hits just keep on coming, many of them rooted in circus and vaudeville traditions. I’m a sucker for a good juggler and the young man in “Kooza” was as good as I have ever seen, both in the speed of his juggling and the variety and invention of his work with rings, balls, and Indian clubs.
A terrific teeterboard act is climaxed by a man wearing stilts that must raise him 10 feet above the stage. He does a back flip off the teeterboard, landing effortlessly. In an evening of ooh’s and aah’s, this was probably the most stunning single moment.
Two men had the audience gasping as they maneuvered themselves on a rotating pendulum-like contraption called the Wheel of Death. As the pendulum rotates faster and faster the two men run and balance themselves on top and within two wire mesh open cages, with no safety net. I’ve seen variations of the Wheel of Death in other circuses and I’ve never failed to be amazed that anyone would even attempt such a dangerous act. The duo in “Kooza” defines “thrilling.”
There is a fine acrobatic high wire act that operates on two stacked parallel wires at the same time. A woman performs solo on a trapeze with grace and bravery. A man and woman dash about the stage on a unicycle, risking life and limb performing gymnastic moves with dexterity.
A young man from China knocked the audience out with a dazzling display of hand balancing on an increasingly tall stack of chairs. The strength and discipline of the act was awe-inspiring.
The show’s music is the most varied and entertaining of any Cirque du Soleil show I’ve seen. Instead of the droning exoticism of other Cirque musical accompaniments, we hear real music—jazz, rock, Latin American, fusion—performed by a superb small orchestra.
The show runs a little long at 2 hours and 45 minutes, the length inflated by a 30-minute intermission required to accommodate the endless lines to the portable restrooms outside the tent. The performing time could be profitably reduced by fewer clown appearances. This is a family show that children will love, but a pre performance nap might be appropriate for the youngsters attending evening shows.
“Kooza” runs through August 10 at Parking Lot K at the UnitedCenter,1901 West Madison Street. Performances are Tuesday through Thursday at 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 4 and 8 p.m., and Sunday at 1 and 5 p.m.Tickets are $55 to $125 with discounts for children, students, and senior citizens. Call 1 800 678 5440.
The show gets a rating of four stars. June 2008
For additional information about the show, visit: cirquedusoleil.com.