Thursday, October 29, 2009

Cirque du Soleil Returns to Santa Monica With "Kooza"

It's been 13 years since I attended a Cirque du Soleil show, having seen "Mystere" at Las Vegas' Treasure Island hotel in 1996.

A lot has happened to the Cirque du Soleil since then. For one thing, the franchise now boasts a whopping six shows in Vegas, including the acclaimed "O" at Bellagio to more recent openings like the Beatles-oriented "Love." And Mystere is still there too.

Cirque, founded in Quebec City in 1984, has several more touring shows traveling across the globe, as well as permanent shows in other cities and territories.

But Los Angeles is where Cirque du Soleil made its U.S. debut in 1987 (at the Los Angeles Festival), and it's in nearby Santa Monica where its traveling shows frequently set up the big tent. The latest Cirque show to hit Southern California, "Kooza," is currently wowing crowds under the blue-and-yellow big top next to the Santa Monica Pier.

"Kooza," which made its debut in Montreal in 2007, is billed as a return in some ways to the Cirque's roots. The show mixes acrobatics and clowns -- perhaps making "Kooza" one of Cirque du Soleil's more traditional shows.

But no Cirque show is truly "traditional." We were invited to catch "Kooza" on Sunday night (we took it as an opportunity to celebrate our anniversary), and were pretty much wowed, as you'd expect. There are a few weak points -- a few acts that perhaps pale only because of the awesomeness of the contortionists, among others, are a hard act to follow; and a few jokes that fall flat (playing guys kissing guys for laughs -- in 2009?) -- but the overall show evokes plenty of awe and more than a few nail-biting moments.

Edge-of-your-seat moments come courtesy the two-level tightrope, as the performers attempt an ever-increasing level of death-defying feats high above the ground (above).

Then there's the aptly named "Wheel of Death" -- a unique contraption that, in unskilled hands, would quickly live up to its name. In the hands of Cirque's "Kooza" artists, the wheel elicits plenty of gasps from the audience.

I'm a pretty jaded guy, and it takes quite a bit to impress me. The athletes and artists in "Kooza" impress me. The fact that these people do this every day, in venues around the world, is all the more amazing.

Cirque du Soleil's "Kooza" continues in Santa Monica through Nov. 29; after that, it heads to Orange County.

Picture credits: OSA Images; used with permission

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