David Shiner
Cirque du Soleil
The Royal Albert Hall

Kooza: contortionists Credit: John Zimmerman
Kooza: wall of death Credit: John Zimmerman
Kooza Credit: Matt Beard

If watching death-defying artists push themselves to their extremes doesn't inspire you to break some boundaries in 2013, nothing will. Cirque du Soleil's Kooza dazzles, delights and dumbfounds.

Kooza’s set is a fantastical mix of billowing big top tents and carnivalesque eastern promise. The colours are sumptuous and the lighting transports the audience to a spine tingling new world. Set designer Stéphane Roy has outdone himself with this beautiful landscape on which the acrobats play.

Kooza was created in 2007 as Cirque's 20th show. This year marks the companies twenty-fifth anniversary and it's certainly a good touring choice—it proves just why this company deserves its international success. For the last two years, its show Totem has visited the Albert Hall. Having watched both this and Kooza, the last show pales in comparison.

Avoiding a wishy-washy concept, director David Shiner revels in the idea of circus, following the story of a muddled up clown named ‘Innocent’. In many Cirque shows the clowns are the production’s downfall, not able to match the breathtaking spectacles they intercede and becoming boring padding. Kooza's clowns excel from the off as they are integrated properly into the production and the continuous successful audience interaction keeps the energy in the auditorium buzzing. Shiner directed the very first Cirque show, and Kooza is designed as a celebration of the company’s roots.

The show is family friendly—bar the odd sex crazed clown—but if you do take children you may need to watch out that they aren't inspired to recreate the acts at home. The beautiful hoop dancer's act might be harmless enough, but if you found them tumbling from the washing line in an attempt to copy the tightrope walkers it might be a different story...

Kooza is jam-packed with breathtaking acts, and a devilish Trickster flips around the stage controlling all that follows. Jean-François Côté's composition brings the action to life, complemented by Jonathan Deans’s exciting sound design. The dramatic tension rarely falters, and the pulsing beats and upbeat rhythms certainly get the acrobats moving!

The only let down is the main troupe's dancing—it feels lacklustre and not up to the crispness of the rest of the show. This is a shame as the group are extremely talented—when not performing skeleton choreography, they tumble and stack up like a set of extreme cheerleaders. Their chance to really excel comes in the finale when they somersault crazily into the air off a teeterboard (a very large seesaw). Landing on partners' shoulders, flipping whilst wearing 5ft stilts, and one gravity-defying girl who flips whilst strapped onto a pogo stick.

One could run out of adjectives trying to describe the variety of acts, and it would certainly spoil the surprise. Highlights are the incredible contortionists, who fluidly mutate into positions that leave you wondering how they fit their organs inside, and the wheel of death. This rotating pendulum with two huge hamster wheels swings through the air, and two daringly unwired acrobats flip and tumble on top of the revolving contraption 10ft in the air.

My biggest gripe is the lack of recognition for the artists. Despite each dazzling with their death defying acts there are no names in the programme—a crime when all of these artists deserve to be lauded.

Cirque du Soleil made the idea of an all-human circus troop famous. Kooza reignites the magic of the big top, and the gasps and constant cheers from the crowd show that this courageous troupe certainly has a place in our modern world where one can watch stunts on TV anytime.

It’s the raw energy and proximity to such inspiring performers that means it is worth the exorbitant ticket prices. Sell a kidney if need be, but get to the Royal Albert Hall and experience it for yourself.

Reviewer: Louise Lewis

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