This is a show that blends, almost to perfection, its subcontinental sounds, its stunning lighting and costumes with theatrical ingenuity and acrobatic wonder. Nothing about it is big or flashy, yet it is Cirque, maybe even circus, at its most spellbinding.
— The Independent
For everyone who has gained worldwide fame and applauds, the tendency of getting flashier and more pretentious is usually inevitable. So is Cirque du Soleil, the largest theatrical producer in the world. This Montreal-based circus troupe was founded in Bale-Saint-Paul in Quebec on 7 July 1984 by two former street performers Guy Laliberté and Gilles Ste-Croix. After ups and downs in the late 1980s, the circus finally took off by 1990, and thus became almost a household name.
But today’s Cirque du Soleil, shining under the glittering crown of profits, decides to ‘go back to the basics’. Kooza ‘rekindles the memories and emotions associated with circuses of old, and bring together two-century-old circus traditions’.
Though still illuminated by garish lights and filled with flamboyant costumes, Kooza would like to offer us something else, if not more dazzling, but subtler, sleeker, and far more sophisticated.
From the most traditional circus elements including clown and acrobats to the play’s main storyline, one could always find traces of the notion, going back to where it starts.
The play tells the journey of a naive boy, the Innocent, who entered a fantasy world by accident and met various eccentric people, and in the end, he went back to the beginning where the innocence lay.
Finally this year, the classic came to China touring in Shanghai in September and across the Golden Week. Now it has put up the dreamlike tents in Beijing, which will cover the Christmas and New Year, warming up the winter-invaded city with the beautiful and colourful wonderland that it creates until the end of January 2018.
Kooza took its name from ‘Koza’ in Sanskrit, which means ‘treasure box’, and the main stage of the show is like a magic box full of unknown and uncertainty. The show starts with the Innocent flying a kite when suddenly the curtain unfolds and there comes the Bataclan, a splendid travelling three-storey tower where all singers and the band bases, and where the performers coming from and back. You’ll never know what would be the next.
So that’s it, the simple stage, which however never fails to impress the audiences. The first half of the show features brightness and cheerfulness, in which you could always find some touches of burlesque if humour is what you search for like many others do.
They are here, in the clown who interacts frequently with the audiences, rather than merely gives some cliché jokes and physical shows to lead to the main performance; in the winking alarm lights triggered by the chaos the comedians creates; and in the gobsmacked audiences who are picked out randomly to step onto the stage and join the show clumsily, with awkward expressions on the faces. But if you come for the acrobatics, you can also be amazed by the contortionists and acrobats, who twist their bodies as flexible as boneless, or spin at the top of a pole to challenge all impossibles.
However, not until after the break does all the thrills and exhilaration emerge and upgrade. Taking the first half of carefree heaven, the second part must stand for hell.
It is shrouded in darkness since the restart, thunders, lightning, and the music starts to sound bizarre, to which some devil-masked spooky skeletons dance after a swish of the curtain, guiding trip of the Innocent deeper to a different world. If you are fascinated by the performance above, this part will definitely make your heart in mouth.
The bewildering Hoops Manipulation combines ‘fluidity of movement, physical contortion, exceptional balance and impressive dexterity’. The stretchy performer, in a purple laced body-sock, perfectly matching her hair, and a rainbow-coloured cape, like a witch from some fairy tale, totally entices the audiences away by spinning up to seven hoops at once.
More thrilling is the double tightrope walk in which four acrobats not only walk, but also jump, sword-fight, and even cycle high up in the air, without any protection methods.
No matter where you sit in the tent, you need to make the effort to raise your head, and, inevitably, be overwhelmed by the gravity-challenging walk in the sky. And there’s the balancing on chairs, in which the acrobat (the only Chinese artist in the circus) stands on his head at the very peak of the 23-foot tower piled up by eight chairs…
All these bring the show to its climax, Wheel of Death. Two artists walk, run, jump, and somersault on heavy wheels rotating at speeds of up to 40km/h, which also symbolises the last part of one’s life, death, evoking people’s thought about life.
‘It’s a dangerous act, but what we try to show the audience is that we know what we are doing,’ said one of the performers, Jimmy Ibarra, a 36-year-old Columbian who is surprisingly laid-back considering his dangerous career. In one of his interviews in Singapore, he told people that when he trained, he tried to feel the same way when he walked on the street.
In the end, all lights dim, and unwinding music starts to replace the intensity and anxiety, in which the Innocent dances, while flying the kite higher and higher.
It’s like everything calms down and goes back to the start, where innocence and peace are cradled. It is not just a circus show. It is one that combines circus and plays, hope and destroys, brightness and darkness, chaos and harmony, and even life and death, which makes you sometimes burst into laughter.
But sometimes reflect on the essence and real meaning of life. Under its Vegas-like resplendent costumes and effects, it is the Wilde-like aesthetics and philosophy that makes Kooza, and Cirque du Soleil, an everlasting legend in the history of the circus.
Photography: from Google