Live Review: KOOZA by Cirque du Soleil, Skygate, Brisbane Airport, until 8 January 2017

Traditional circus is supposed to be a feast for the senses; a whirlwind of colour, sound and movement. KOOZA, the latest tour from Cirque du Soleil, delivers in spades.

The Innocent, played with heart-wrenching sincerity by clown / acrobat Vladislav Zolotarev, is introduced to a lavish experience by the worldly Jester (a sinuous Joey Arrigo). Kitted out with the most extraordinary flair, the Jester magically reveals his decadent world piece by piece. The astonished Innocent sits agape – somewhat mirroring the crowd’s reactions – as each act unfolds.

Cirque du Soleil is known for occasionally getting in too far over its own head; complex themes and cheesy, unfunny clowning siphoning some pleasure from what would otherwise have been a singular spectacle. KOOZA is clever in that it returns to the roots of the circus arts and simplifies the story, making the audience feel like kids again as we gasped and cheered, and – I must admit – shed a tear.

It is a reflection of jaded modern society and the social media age — where dozens of foolhardy feats can be witnessed in handy three second vignettes on YouTube — that we as audiences have become more difficult to move. The extraordinary tightrope walkers, stunning hula hoop performer, mind-boggling contortionists and talented unicycle dancers which would once upon a time, on their own, have been headline acts, paled slightly as the grander and more death-defying performances played puppet master with our breath. China’s Yao Deng Bo and his solo chair act held the crowd in silent stillness as we all feared to move lest we disturb his carefully constructed tower, and the final aerial tumbling act took stilts to a new level.

The aptly-named Wheel of Death was by far the largest crowd pleaser, drawing screams and spontaneous applause throughout. Mention must be given to its masters, Columbians Jimmy Ibarra and Ronald Solis, who through either death wishes or lifelong adrenaline addictions managed to keep winking and flirting with the audience while tempting the powers that be. A stumble at the peak by one of them – genuine or rehearsed – had my heart stopped for what felt like a full two seconds.

The attention to detail, whether in the ever-changing costume of the hard working vocalist or in the placement of dazzling rhinestones on the Jester’s jacket, was striking, and added greatly to the overall experience. The eight piece band provided a tight, explosive soundtrack to the evening with an unexpected yet welcome drum solo by Australian Ben Todd.

In KOOZA, the clowning was a warm, enjoyable (and at times downright hilarious) interlude on par with the rest of the night as opposed to something which stops the action, and this is really where the best part of the evening lay; in its personality. Instead of just a series of breathtaking performances tied loosely by some esoteric theme, which can entertain temporarily but leave you cold afterwards, the heart-warming, funny and touching story behind KOOZA left us with the warm and fuzzies, craving more, raving about it for days on end.

KOOZA is a welcome return to the traditional circus vibe for Cirque du Soleil. Big top and all.

Disclaimer: Natalie was a guest of Cirque du Soleil

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