7.19.2007

The "Cirque" phenomenon, or, a melancholy loner in search of a plot

So I saw the Cirque de Soleil production "Kooza" when I visited Montreal recently. Someone asked me what I thought of the show, so here goes.

For a performer in the 'circus arts', I imagine that being part of Cirque de Soleil is the pinnacle of the circus world. Every aspect of the show is very professionally done. In Kooza, I enjoyed the performances -- the high wire acts, the contortionists, the "Pendulum of Death," etc. It is like theater in the round and the audience is very close to what is going on, and the performers are really word-class.

Cirque, however, is not content to merely put on an exciting circus show, they claim to use the 'circus arts' to tell a story...

KOOZA tells the story of The Innocent, a melancholy loner in search of his place in the world.

KOOZA is a return to the origins of Cirque du Soleil: It combines two circus traditions Рacrobatic performance and the art of clowning. The show highlights the physical demands of human performance in all its splendor and fragility, presented in a colorful m̩lange that emphasizes bold slapstick humor.

The Innocent's journey brings him into contact with a panoply of comic characters such as the King, the Trickster, the Pickpocket, and the Obnoxious Tourist and his Bad Dog.

Between strength and fragility, laughter and smiles, turmoil and harmony, KOOZA explores themes of fear, identity, recognition and power. The show is set in an electrifying and exotic visual world full of surprises, thrills, chills, audacity and total involvement.

Frankly, I don't think that this part of the show worked that well. The 'story' is this vague little thread that showed up in the beginning, ran between the various acts, and at the end. I wouldn't really call it a story or even that much of a discernible theme.

Also, there was some clowning in this show that seemed to refer to the days of slapstick (Chaplin, Keaton, as well as older comic traditions, etc.) and I found this aspect of the show to be 'not that funny'. It wasn't tedious but it wasn't exactly sidesplitting comedy either, and the person I was with agreed with this assessment.

The show as whole is very slickly produced and this means that it lacks a certain spontaneity, on the whole I enjoyed listening to the slightly ragged but more improvisational band at the homegrown Speilpalast Cabaret than the professional musicians who never missed a beat or cue in Kooza.

I've read that some people really get into the whole Cirque thing and become Cirque groupies and eagerly await each new production. While I'm glad that I saw the show under a tent in Montreal even though it was expensive ($95), I think, however, that I tend more to enjoy smaller scale, less highly produced spectacles.

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