Cirque du Soleil at Santa Monica Pier
As a major fan and consistent correspondent frequently touting the prolific quarter-century run of that Montreal-based phenomenon Cirque du Soleil, I have seen and written about every glitzy, vibrantly multi-hued and multi-textured creation these folks have offered their grateful audiences since 1987, from those original touring tent spectaculars to their current five Las Vegas permanent attractions (and soon to be a sixth, the in-process Viva Elvis at City Center’s new Aria Hotel), to their other permanent productions in Biloxi and Orlando.
Now, after furthering the Cirque’s already well-established image for inimitably innovative entertainment by creating shows with something of a storyline, such as KÀ at the MGM Grand and The Beatles’ LOVE at the Mirage, the company’s unstoppable designers have now returned to their first Los Angeles venue with the spectacular new show called KOOZA, setting up their enormous blue-and-gold tent once again on the sand adjacent to the Santa Monica Pier boardwalk. And with KOOZA, the Cirque has refound the roots of what made them so famous: the traditional and beloved traveling circus transformed and reinvented by their collective world-class imagination.
Of course, the Cirque gratefully uses no animals to ply their wares, but KOOZA once again blossoms with unearthly aerialists and boneless acrobats who can accomplish things most humans cannot, as well as a goofy, brilliantly slapstick set of clowns who definitely know how to lighten things up between thrills, chills, and hopefully well-rehearsed near misses.
According to KOOZA’s writer and director David Shiner, his infectious concoction is “about human connection and the world of duality, good and bad. The tone is fun and funny, light and open. The show doesn’t take itself too seriously, but it’s very much about ideas, too.”
KOOZA starts simply with the Trickster, popping from a gigantic jack-in-the-box on a blank stage to the obvious glee of a wide-eyed young boy holding an enormous kite, who then proceeds to lead his new young friend (and his audience-peeing lifesize dog) into a world of comic and sensual delight which includes jugglers, contortionists, unicyclists, a guy who balances on chairs high into the tippy-top of the tent, teeterboard artists, a troupe of highwire aerialists, and a company of gorgeously costumed players who dance and leap around all the others. Although nothing here is terribly new to Cirque enthusiasts, it matters not, since it is all so welcome once again and all performed so seamlessly — not to mention performed right above our heads, rather than at the distances necessary at some of the company’s permanent shows in oversized Vegas hotels.
This is especially true of the heart-stopping Wheel of Death act, a great enduring highlight of KÀ since it first opened in 2005, borrowed here and looking even more death-defying at such close range. If I am not mistaken, the two performers who here leap and counter-rotate within the frantically spinning 1,600-lb. apparatus, fearless acrobatics who exhibit astonishing footwork and teamwork, might just be the original South American twins who originated the act and performed it in KÀ. If not, these guys are just about equally as good.
The large onstage band and live singers are also a major asset, expertly translating Jean-Francois Cote’s gorgeous original musical score, which dips easily from 60s pop to Jobim-like Brazilian smoothness to Bollywood-esque cheer, all while the large 19-member company of dancers and acrobats called the Charivari move with precision skill while interpreting Clarence Ford’s striking choreography and wearing Marie-Chantale Vaillancourt’s exceptionally sensuous, brilliantly colorful, and highly whimsical costuming.
Perhaps my favorite number of all in KOOZA begins Act Two, when a legion of Day-of-the-Dead-style performers in Vaillancourt’s brilliant Tim Burton-y skeleton costumes do their best 2009 rendition of something that instantly recalls Cab Calloway and his musical descent to Hades from the old Cotton Club days of the 1920s and 30s. Although, at other moments in the show, some of the Charivari troupe’s glittery red-and-gold trimmed outfits quickly bring to mind ornate Christmas decorations from the 1800s, this particular number is right in time and right in place for that spooky, spirited holiday just around the corner known as Halloween.
le behind us, who had screamed and hooted and applauded and loudly yelled “NO WAY!” directly in our poor ears at every opportunity throughout the evening, were suddenly completely silent as the second act began.
I turned around to see if they’d left at intermission or were still buying souvenirs and popcorn in one of the Cirque’s busy concessions tents, but there they were: sitting stock-still and amazingly expressionless, as though lifted directly from a print of Grant Wood’s “American Gothic.” Then, perhaps to explain himself in answer to my puzzled look, the husband said, quite loudly, “I hate this Halloween stuff.” And then the wife kicked in her shared opinion, too. “It’s very insensitive to true Christians.”
All I can say is: Tee-Fuggin-Hee.
KOOZA plays through Nov. 29 under the Grand Chapiteau on the Santa Monica Pier, Santa Monica, followed by a run beginning Jan. 8 at the Orange County Great Park in Irvine; for tickets, call 800.450.1420 or log on at www.cirquedusoleil.com .