Still crazy for Cirque’s Koozå

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ABOVE: The astonishing “Wheel of Death” act in Cirque du Soleil’s Koozå features Jimmy Ibarra Zapata and Angelo Lyezkysky Rodriguez. BELOW: Victor Levoshuk balances on a stack of chairs 23 feet high. Photos by Matt Beard & Bernard Letendre; costumes by Marie Chantale Vaillancourt. Cirque du Soleil 2022


Let’s be honest about Cirque du Soleil: sometimes the world’s most popular circus is captivating, enchanting and everything you want a modern (non-animal) circus to be. Other times, the experience can be flat, uninvolving and/or pretentious. Happily, one of their best shows in recent memory, Koozå (written and directed by David Shiner, who has roots in the Bay Area circus scene), is still running and is back under the big top at Oracle Park in San Francisco.

I first reviewed Koozå in November 2007, about six months after its premiere, and everything I loved about the show then is still very much part of the experience. (Read my review here) The Act 2 showstopper, “The Wheel of Death,” is still among the most thrilling acrobatic performances I’ve ever seen. Jimmy Ibarra Zapata and Angelo Lyezkysky Rodriguez ride a giant, suspended contraption that spins like a propeller and has a stationary ring at either end that the acrobats flip inside of and on top of in the most alarming ways.

Another highlight comes in Act 2 with Victor Levoshuk’s balancing act on an ever-growing stack of chairs. He reaches a height of 23 feet, and though he’s tethered for safety, his display of strength and grace is remarkable.

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Director/writer Shiner’s greatest accomplishment with Koozå is how light and charming it feels. The clowns are (mostly) not obnoxious, and at Wednesday’s opening night show, the audience interaction with a game guy named Tim was stellar and quite funny. The live music (by Jean-François Côté) has an epic, cinematic sweep (and a kick-ass horn section) but also isn’t afraid to get funky. It’s especially satisfying that drummer Eden Bahar gets a moment in the spotlight after his stunning work during the “Wheel of Death” routine.

The costumes by Marie Chantale Vaillancourt have the usual bedazzled leotard look, but she gets to have a lot of fun with the “Skeleton Dance” dance number that feels like a mash-up of the Day of the Dead and an old Vegas showgirl revue.

Other enjoyable acts in Koozå include a trio of contortionists (Sunderiya Jargalsaikhan, Ninjin Altankhuyag, Sender Enkhtur) who seem to defy ordinary rules of human biology (like having internal organs or bones); a highwire act that really gets exciting when they pull out the little bicycles; and a hipster hoopster (Aruna Bataa) who could make a case for glittery hula-hoops as couture.

One note about San Francisco’s busy Mission Bay. If you think it’s going to be easy to park down there, think again. Give yourself plenty of time and make a plan (like take Muni or ride share). It seems like new buildings pop up in what used to be parking lots every day. And double check to see if there’s a Warriors game at the Chase Center (like there was on Wednesday night). On such nights, traffic and parking can be their own San Francisco version of the “Wheel of Death.”

FOR MORE INFORMATION
Cirque du Soleil’s Koozå continues through March 17 under the big top at Oracle Park in San Francisco. Tickets start at $39. Running time is just over two hours (including a 25-minute intermission). Visit www.cirquedusoleil.com/kooza. The show moves to San Jose April 18-May 26.

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