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Performance review: Cirque du Soleil's 'Kooza' at the Santa Monica Pier*

October 16, 2009 |  5:48 pm


For fans of Cirque du Soleil -- and really, who isn't one at this point? -- it should come as no surprise that the new show, "Kooza," is a thrilling spectacle jampacked with white-knuckle acrobatic moments. Yes, and the ocean is deep and the sky is blue.

A touring production that is currently holding court in a big-top tent adjacent to the Santa Monica Pier, "Kooza" offers further proof -- as if more were needed -- that the global Cirque brand is in fine artistic shape. 

CirquePhotos If there's anything surprising about the show, it's that it represents a return to simplicity for Cirque. Those who are familiar with the company's mega-productions in Las Vegas and elsewhere will no doubt feel the absence of high-tech waterworks and other stage effects. But in the case of "Kooza," less is more -- a lot more.

For one thing, the retro "Kooza" is intended to be a symbolic nod to the company's roots as a touring tent show. The Montreal-based Cirque, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, had its big U.S. debut in 1987 at the Los Angeles Festival, so this current production is a homecoming of sorts.

"Kooza" features clowning and acrobatics in the old-fashioned sense, which is to say it relies almost entirely on physics and gravity to achieve its effects. A young clown named the Innocent receives a mysterious package containing a jack-in-the-box toy. The toy springs to life to reveal a moving castle of exotic wonders and hysterical performers.

The show's garishly colorful visuals seem inspired by Terry Gilliam and late-period Fellini. The acts themselves are pure Cirque. Among the most memorable are a quartet of contortionists who arrange themselves into cursive formations; a high-wire act involving two bicycles; and a showstopper featuring a revolving contraption called the Wheel of Death.

Audiences sit close to the stage thanks to the shallow seating configuration of the tent. The result is a feeling of intimacy as well as a magnified sense of danger. Unlike the movies, you never know how the acts will end -- will it be victory or disaster? (There are safety cables and nets in case of the latter.)

The rotating cast of performers surely features some of the hardest-working people in the industry. Juggling has no right to be exciting anymore, but Anthony Gatto's act reinvigorates the genre with impeccable craft and timing. The same goes for a clown act featuring a mad king, his two disgruntled jesters and a large urinating dog.

"Kooza," which runs in Santa Monica through Nov. 29 before moving to Irvine in January, is the creation of clowning veteran David Shiner, whose credits include Broadway and other Cirque productions. Shiner finds the right rhythm for the show, alternating the playful with the dramatic while smartly working with the physical limitations presented by a traveling big-top production. 

Cirque's ability to take the utopian premise inherent in the circus -- that there's a place for everyone under the big top -- and expand it to a global stage is on fine display in "Kooza." The multinational cast is its own symbolic United Nations. The tent contains the whole world, which for an evening, at least, is a mighty fine place to be.

-- David Ng

"Kooza." Santa Monica Pier, Santa Monica. 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays; 4 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. Sundays. Ends Nov. 29. $60 to $135 for adults; check website for other categories. (800) 450-1480. Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes.


Cirque Du Soleil is momentum for Irvine's Great Park

*Correction: An earlier version of this story had the incorrect date and name for the Los Angeles Festival. The festival was in 1987.

Photo: A high-wire act from Cirque du Soleil's "Kooza." Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times

Comments () | Archives (16)

Who isn't a fan at this point? Count me in. What's with the surreal out of contact face on this guy? Hey that connects with my life, big time. Just like all the supercalifragicexpialidosious contortions they go through, I can be amazed but not necessarily impressed. They do not change things, although they have obviously changed themselves. Entertainment perhaps for you, but completely overpriced BS for me.

"Juggling has no right to be exciting anymore"
?? This is an odd statement. Juggling can be very exciting, it's all up to the performer.

Also, you might want to mention that Mike Tyus is local talent.

I saw that first performance under a huge tent next to the pier in '87. They were, of course, breathtaking--but so was the entire festival. Under the direction of super-talented Peter Sellers (sp?) the L.A. Festival was an experience that could never be re-created. Performers from hundreds of locations throughout the world came to Los Angeles; the aboriginal dance troupe from an island off the coast of australia had never left home, for e.g. Imagine their expressions when the Children of Bali, resplendant in tall headress, gold, red, luminescent carrying a child in a golden throne, passed by. I saw the faces on everyone as they looked at the 'other': awe.

I saw Kooza in Denver a few weeks ago and it was the most disappointing of the six Cirque shows I've ever seen. I felt that way even before the last act "Wheel of Death" was cancelled. An usher told us on the way out that it couldn't be performed because the wind was blowing and moving the top of the tent. Normally, Cirque is worth every penny - but in this case, we weren't even sure it was worth the half price tickets we purchased. Compared to other shows, this one is heavier on the juvenile clown acts and lighter on the "take your breath way" Cirque moments.

No longer a fan. Go back to Las Vegas!

I saw the show last week and I was blown away! Los Angeles audiences can be the most jaded, cynical bunch around. Just letting you know that you can be moved and transported by Kooza and Cirque, starting with the tent and the sea air. I defy you to sit through an amazing performance by these people and say this is nothing new. It's all about being alive, being human! Wake up!

i would not pay $135 to see a circus show. i've watched Cirque du Soleil on Bravo TV and that's good enough for me. All their shows are pretty much the same and boil down to peking acrobatics in fancier costumes with some magic illusions thrown in. the barnum & bailey show that came to town a while ago was much more entertaining...& a lot cheaper.

Just saw the show and was VERY disappointed....no let's just say it...it was horrid! Noisy, full of vulgar juvenile humor, a drum solo to kill time...gad!, a story that tried but never really jelled.....what a mess!!!

I have seen several CdeS shows ......true some in LV where they can be more spectacular....but there was nothing shabby about Corteo or Dralion or Quidam all of which I also saw in Santa Monica.

Please go back to the sensitive quiet clowns, and the true Fellini magic.......this was not that!!!

I saw Kooza on Sunday, Nov. 16, and was disappointed as some others.
I had higher expectations, and wanted to love every minute. About 30% of the show was entertaining, which doesn't cover the $65 ticket, $8 parking, $20 popcorn/lemonade, and gas money.
Although the performers prepped for "Wheel of Death", it was hoisted back up to the ceiling and skipped -- cutting the performance to 1 hr. 40 minutes.
The Ukrainian trapeze girl had about 3 exciting swing moves that she repeated, along with 10 minutes of posing and pumping, and the gymnast man who was amazing at balancing on chairs stacked 30 feet high -- well, wasn't worth watching 10 minutes of stacking and unstacking chairs for.
I LOVED the old fashioned "spring board" shooting acrobats up for flips, and could have watched MORE!
I really enjoyed the juggler, too, but maybe more variety of objects . . . ? It got a little long.
The two girls/children gymnasts/contortionists were beautifully choreographed, if not a little disturbing. The other acts (Swing Girl) could use the same quality of crafting.
It wasn't until I read the mini program handed out by American Express (paid programs were $18) that I read the "theme" of the Innocent on his adventure with the Trickster, King of Fools, Jesters, Big Dog. In watching, the Innocent was the only formed character, the rest was a jumble of silliness and slapstick. We had no Pickpocket in our performance, or Crazy Tourist; I had no idea there was anything more than a little boy flying his kite as a theme.
I think the performances need to be developed more, so there is more simple activity as they are prepping for stunts.
Music was great. Still a fan; I'll try some other shows.

So over Cirque!
This show put us to sleep.
Cirque now nothing more than the typical corporate round table creative. Boring!
How else could you ever explain the existence of Chris Angel's Believe - called the WORST show ever.

Y'all just a buncha spoiled brats. It was excellent, I went on Nov 17 for the wifes birthday, and it was fun. The wheel of death worked, everything did. The contortionist girl was both amazing and disturbing, laying on her breasts while smiling and dancing around her body was incredible. I paid $85 for very good seats, $5 for parking in the city lot with shuttle, and didnt waste money on popcorn, got water for $1, we already ate. Good thing we did because the clowns were dumbing popcorn on peoples heads, sounds like a few are whining on here.

CdS is for women, you other types are just too bitchy. Men go to please their women, I have been twice before and never paid because I was dating women who wanted to go so bad. Now married, I paid. Most the merchandise was overpriced, but a program with an excellent DVD was worth the $25 and got a great purse for the wife for $75, a very cool and stylish one. The rest was crap, the long Tshirts nice, but they were $75 by themselves. Dont buy it if too expensive.

the show was good, I would never go without a woman, thats the fun, but the performers were all great, every show has been, just too effeminate before, this was more circusy. I liked it. CdS is over extended, but I got my monies worth. I wouldnt go to Vegas just for it, but may see a show someday, though I do hate Vegas, its for losers.

So relax and enjoy the show. I did. I wont go every year, but will from time to time just like to Disneyland. And Knotts Scary Farm, we can be kids, once in awhile. Unlike artistes, who are 24/7 in their Neverlands. Sounds like some are just spoiled. Relax, and enjoy.

art collegia delenda est

honestly, people's pessimism and negativity is unnecessary.
i thought the show was awesome! everything about it was worth my time, effort, and money. i really feel that we need to stop being such tough critics and just enjoy the things before us.

Saw the show 12/4 and my girlfriend and I enjoyed ourselves immensely! This was my first CdeS show and the only comparison I had to it was Cirque Berzerk earlier this summer, which was a let down. I can imagine if you've seen one, more, or all of the full-blown Vegas shows that this would come up short, but I came in with an open mind, no expectations and deeply disconuted tickets and came away thoroughly pleased for the experience. I'd highly recommend it for anyone who hasn't seen a CdeS show before. And save yourself some $$...park in the public structure off 2nd & Broadway for $3 and eat/drink at the dozens of walking distance restraurants around Santa Monica.

I cant believe all these untalentless people critisizing such an amazing show! It was worth of every penny that I paid for. All these negative cynical people could just stay home and watch their dumb reality Tv shows that's airing for free on ABC!

I love the last paragraph you wrote.

And all Cirque du Soleil shows are worth it. They're very beautiful, have great story lines, and takes the audience into another realm of imagination. I would advise anyone that hasn't caught a show in real life to do so!


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