Review: ‘Kooza’ delivers exactly what Cirque du Soleil fans want

Inspired by the Sanskrit word for “box,” the frolicsome world of Cirque du Soleil’s “Kooza” does indeed feel like opening a treasure chest.

Part of the enchantment is novelty. The famed French Canadian boutique circus hasn’t visited San Francisco since before the pandemic so the troupe’s whimsical mix of guts and gymnastics galore feels far more fresh and exhilarating than usual.

Writer-director David Shiner, the master clown of “Fool Moon” fame, envisioned this playful piece as a “circus in a box,” a full-throttle 2½-hour show that’s big on heart and short on the high-tech spectacle that has become Cirque’s calling card.

Steeped in the company’s roots in “busking” (aka street performance), “Kooza” feels like a light-hearted return to the company’s adrenaline-chasing roots. The purity of focus of the artists and their devotion to craft is a refreshing departure from much of the Cirque pantheon. The signature striped big-top holds court in San Francisco through March 11 before hitting the road for a San Jose run in April.

The Indian motif is represented by the musical flourishes and the delights are chockablock, from the trio of seemingly boneless contortionists (Sunderiya Jargalsaikhan, Ninjin Altankhuyag, Sender Enkhtur) who bend and twist like rubber bands and a high-wire act that makes you hold your breath to a band of mischievous clowns who mock the audience on stage and off. At one point this reviewer got a handful of popcorn tossed in her face but it was actually funny instead of forced. The bad dog bit is particularly charming.

The Wheel of Death, by far the most memorable part of the show during its U.S. premiere in San Francisco in 2007, remains a heart-thumping feat of derring-do that rivets the viewer from start to finish.

The two brawny acrobats, Jimmy Ibarra Zapata and Angelo Lyezkysky Rodriguez, who jump and tumble inside huge spinning wheels, hurling themselves upwards against gravity again and again, as if daring mortality to take them on, are simply mesmerizing.

Victor Levoshuk also mesmerizes as he lithely stacks a 23-foot tower of chairs, nimbly balancing at the top in a staggering act of strength.

Ultimately Cirque often excites us most when it’s at its simplest. The high-tech razzle-dazzle is beside the point. The real spectacle here is carved in muscle and bone. When the performers shake or wobble, the tension is unbearable.

These chiseled acrobats pushing their bodies just as far as they can go are the ultimate metaphor for all of us, trying vainly to keep our balance on the tilt-a-whirl that is life. When they land a big death-defying jump, we all exhale along with them. That’s the magic.

‘KOOZA’

Created and presented by Cirque du Soleil

In San Francisco: Through March 10; Oracle Park; $49-$194

In San Jose: April 18-May 19, Santa Clara County Fairgrounds; $59-$199

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes, one intermission

Tickets & more information: www.cirquedusoleil.com

 

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