Marking its twentieth production, Kooza by Cirque Du Soleil at the Royal Albert Hall brings together two of the company’s foundation blocks: the arts of clowning and acrobatics. In a homage to the intensity and pure joy of circus skills, creators David Shiner and Serge Roy look to the talent of circus performers across the world in this production which is bursting with skill but lacking in spectacle. By focusing on the skills of circus work, Shiner and Roy miss the spectacle on which Cirque Du Soleil has built its reputation. Kooza, whilst impressive in parts, lags in elongated clown sketches that get lost in the grand space of the Royal Albert Hall, dropping the momentum that acrobatics build so well.
There’s a pleasant enough narrative of an innocent boy flying his kite getting caught up in the wonder of the circus, aided by a king and his buffoonish, loyal servants. Whilst this narrative weaves itself between the various acts and aims to produce the spectacle that awakens the boy to the joys of circus (as we are meant to experience with him), these moments continually dip as the narrative gives way to the acts themselves. That’s not to say they’re not impressive, but Kooza feels more like the greatest hits of Cirque Du Soleil than discovering any new ground. Once you see one Cirque Du Soleil show, you’ve seen them all; at least, this is what Kooza feels like – distinctly nostalgic.
Stephane Roy’s staging evokes a music box that erupts with sound and entertainment, but beyond that there is little in the way of eye-popping design. The opening of the second act is particularly pleasing, though; a dance of death builds to a brilliant acrobatic act that become the highlight of the evening – real gasp-a-minute performances. As the two performers dance in wheels of death, leaping and summersaulting above our heads, we can see the vision that Shiner and Roy had in mind for Kooza. This is the moment of circus we treasure, those moments we can’t quite believe, mouth wide, eyes staring. It’s just a shame that in all of Kooza there was only one moment that showed real danger and entertainment in equal measures; the rest seem placid in comparison.
As for the clowning, you can’t help but smile and sigh. Clowning is great fun, but in the depths of the Royal Albert Hall, considering that audience participation is so relied upon for real comic laughs, the clowning becomes tiresome. The energy drops, the audience becomes distracted. Again, that’s not to say that the clowning isn’t clever or talented, it just feels misjudged. But listen, we all know the joy of Cirque Du Soleil as a world-renowned company which produces spectacular circus work. We all know we’re going to be entertained regardless, and that the talent and skills from the performers far out strips other work, so it can’t be that bad. Yes Kooza dips and bumbles along, but it does also excite and induce gasps of pleasure and horror. It entertains and for that, I can forgive a weak structure.
Kooza is playing at the Royal Albert Hall until 14 February. For more information and tickets, please see the Royal Albert Hall website.