BWW Reviews: CIRQUE DU SOLEIL'S KOOZA, Royal Albert Hall, January 8 2013
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by Gary Naylor
Once the brash new kid on the block, Cirque du Soleil (rather like The Rolling Stones) has become a touring behemoth, producing mega-events that give the public plenty of what got them to their exalted status, and just enough new stuff to show that they can still do it. (Neither are shy of thanking an array of corporate sponsors too - but ain't that they way things are these days?)
With their mantle as edgy newcomers in the ancient arts of circus skills now passed to the urban free-runners of the parkour movement and the extraordinary daredevils walking the slack wire over canyons (and YouTube meaning all that stuff is just a click away, presented in the gritty, guerilla film-making formats of The Street), Cirque wisely return to the roots of their craft in Kooza (at the Royal Albert Hall until 14 February and on tour round Europe in 2013). So get ready for spinning tumblers, death-defying acrobats, high jinks on the trapeze - and clowns.
The Innocent, a Charlie Brown-type figure (he has a kite too) is befriended by The Trickster, who proceeds to conjure mindblowing acts to entertain, teach and reveal a world beyond The Innocent's wildest imagination - and ours! There are - and there's no easy way of saying this - clowns to "assist" The Trickster and, well, you like them or you don't. (I amused myself while they were on stage by reflecting on the resemblance of one clown to football's leading trickster Lionel Messi.)
At three hours, the show could do with losing some of its duration, and the clowns would be in prime position to have the mat pulled from under them, because every one of the acts beckoned forth by The Trickster is a spectacular success. There's a boy and girl who get more intimate on a unicycle than most of us have in the bedroom, an astonishing trio of contortionist women who twist and turn to create lines as beautiful as those drawn by any trio of ballerinas (at times reminding me of Spirited Away's three-headed creation) and acrobats flung into space by a teeeterboard, to twist and turn before spotting the landing - on stilts! The gold medal (at times it felt like a circus Olympics) indisputably went to the two men who hurtled through space sometimes inside, sometimes outside, a pair of giant rotating hamster wheels, at times falling through space in slow motion! It's a deathless cliche to use about The Wheel of Death, but you really do have to see it to believe it!
And that "being there" moment is at the heart of Kooza, indeed, at the heart of Cirque du Soleil. The music isn't so catchy (the two Cirque shows I've seen in Vegas had The Beatles and Elvis as soundtracks - so the bar was high!), the costumes are eye-catching, but not Parisian runway-ready, the performers are gifted, but not uniquely so, but the whole thing - crucially live and er... before your very eyes - comes together as an extravaganza that achieves the not inconsiderable feat of outshining its venue. It's a bold decision to book the Royal Albert Hall for six weeks in the credit card paying season at the start of 2013, but that boldness is matched on stage - and then some!