Theater Review: KOOZA (Cirque du Soleil — International Tour in San Francisco and San Jose)

Post image for Theater Review: KOOZA (Cirque du Soleil — International Tour in San Francisco and San Jose)

by Chuck Louden on January 28, 2024

in Theater-San Francisco / Bay Area,Tours


Circuses since the 19th century conjure up images of clowns, fire eaters, men walking on stilts and lion tamers with jungle felines jumping through flaming hoops. The sexy girl in the sparkling bustier riding atop the elephants around in a circle is the quintessential image of the circus both in person and in movies. Fast forward to the 21st century; having been educated through PETA, animal acts and the people considered to be “circus freaks” are a thing of the past.

Enter Cirque du Soleil, founded in Baie-Saint-Paul, a small town near Québec City in Canada, in 1984 by former street performers Gilles Ste-Croix and Guy Laliberté. Today it is the largest contemporary circus in the world with over 40 original themed shows (see Stage and Cinema reviews of Volta, , Luzia, and more).

Post COVID, Cirque du Soleil is back thriving and delighting audiences again. This marks Cirque du Soleil’s first Big Top show in San Francisco since 2019. Now playing through March 10, 2024, underneath the Big Top at the Grand Chapiteau at Oracle Park, it’s Kooza, described in press notes as an innovative journey through the perspective of “The Innocent”, an endearing yet naive clown looking for his place in the world. He’s transported to the bizarre and exotic world of “Kooza” under the watchful eye of a mysterious yet powerful trickster with seemingly magical abilities. Kooza, written and directed by David Shiner, had its U.S. premiere in San Francisco in 2007.

As part of this fully encompassing journey, the mesmerizing “Silk” has an ethereal aerialist spinning high acrobatic feats seemingly held up by a single piece of red silk. The Skeleton Dance features delightfully spooky skeletons parading all through the Big Top on a well-choreographed trip to the dark side. The “Wheel of Death” — the show’s centerpiece — offers a spinning contraption high in the sky with two daredevils doing jaw dropping feats of flipping and jumping rope while never missing a beat. And of course no Cirque du Soleil show would be complete without the amazing “Double Hirewire”, which has twin wires diagonally 15 and 25 feet off the ground. Here aerialists are balancing poles and chairs while riding bicycles as you look up in awe.

Cirque du Soleil, as you probably know, has changed the entire circus experience. Clowns and jugglers are still a quintessential part of the show but now there is live music, and Jean-François Côté’s score keeps the circus flitting along smoothly, inspired by the drama and major-minor scales of Indian ragas (The name KOOZA is inspired by the Sanskrit word “koza,” which means “box,” “chest” or “treasure,” and was chosen because one of the underlying concepts of the production is the idea of a “circus in a box”). Marie-Chantale Vaillancourt’s form-fitting costumes costumes bring a unique theatricality, from slick, stunning leotards to the more playful skeleton and dog getups. Aerialists are twisting and twirling on the high wires without a net, and gymnasts perform body contortions with grace and ease on the ground and in the air.

Throughout the show, various comic characters scramble through the audience or pop through hatches in the stage floor. If you’re really unlucky, you’ll be coaxed to the stage for a little slapstick comedy that you may never live down.

photos by Matt Beard & Bernard Letendre, Cirque du Soleil 2022
costumes by Marie Chantale Vaillancourt

Cirque du Soleil
Under the Big Top in Oracle Park
ends on March 17, 2024, in San Francisco
then plays San Jose at the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds April 18 – May 26, 2024
for tickets, visit KOOZA

Leave a Comment