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A CurtainUp London London Review

Some of the acrobats and clowns
(Photo: Daniel Desmarais)
Cirque de Soleil’s show Kooza comes to the Royal Albert Hall for six weeks until the middle of February 2013. The huge Albert Hall is a brilliant venue for the high wire aerial act and the revolving drums (The Wheel of Death) because of the height of the hall and the visibility for the whole audience of five and a half thousand. The show promises a blend of clowning and acrobatics but is set in a less than satisfactory narrative, supposedly the journey of The Innocent interacting with a character called The Trickster.

The preamble to the show is audience interaction with the rather hackneyed balloon modelling but placing funny balloon hats on the heads of the unsuspecting. A real Jack in the Box leaps high into the air and the tent opens up to reveal a troupe of acrobats walking two high on giant balls and being launched into the air on a hand held trampoline. Three girls contortionists take the art of body popping to a higher level with a part dance, part shape shifting performance, making themselves into elaborate prawn shapes or storks. The trapeze artist thrills with her extravagant tail feather plumage turning her into an exotic tropical bird.

The stock circus acts fill in between the aerial excitement, unicyclists, hoop la hoops spun into shimmering silver orbs, a pickpocket who relieves an unsuspecting audience member of the complete contents of his pockets. They are undoubtedly the very best of their kind but it is the high acts which amaze. The hi wire artists stage a fencing match while balancing on the wire, a man balances on one leg with another on his shoulders again on the wire and they stage a rickshaw ride while our jaws drop in admiration.

After the intermission is the atmospheric Dance of the Dead with skeleton masks and red flames of hellfire which introduces what is for me the starring act, seen for the first time in the tent. Twin drums are lowered into the auditorium for two acrobats to spin the golden roundels while the whole structure turns on its axis. They start inside the wheels and move to the exterior with each jump back onto the moving and rotating drum, an incredible leap of faith. The company call it The Wheel of Death but I’d call it the Devil’s Treadmill as the feet of the devil dressed acrobats control its motion. An act sees a man balancing on a tower of 8 chairs which he constructs and finally the who acrobatic troupe gather to somersault on stilts.

I think clowns may be a little like Marmite and you either find them very funny or you don’t! I don’t but I was blown away by the acrobatic acts which had me gasping with amazement like a child. It’s a long show at almost three hours and not starting until 8pm which makes for a late night for everyone, especially the children. But the costumes are stunning, even for the clowning, and the lighting is spectacular. Music accompanies the acts, much of it tribal with drumming for excitement. None of the performers are credited in the programme or on the website, just the originators of the show.

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Kooza The show brings together the following team of 13 creators, several of whom are working with Cirque for the first time:  Writer and Director David Shiner, Director of Creation Serge Roy, Set Designer Stéphane Roy, Costume Designer Marie-Chantale Vaillancourt, Composer Jean-François Côté, Choreographer Clarence Ford, Lighting Designer Martin Labrecque, Co-Sound Designers Jonathan Deans and Leon Rothenberg, Props Designer Rogé Francoeur, Acrobatic Equipment and Rigging Designer Danny Zen,  Acrobatic Performance Designer André Simard and Makeup Designer Florence Cornet.
Written and directed by David Shiner

Director of Creation: Serge Roy
Set Designer: Stéphane Roy
Costume Designer: Marie-Chantale Vaillancourt
Composer: Jean-François Côté
Choreographer: Clarence Ford,
Lighting Designer: Martin Labrecque,
Co-Sound Designers: Jonathan Deans and Leon Rothenberg,
Props Designer: Rogé Francoeur,
Acrobatic Equipment and Rigging Designer: Danny Zen, 
Acrobatic Performance Designer: André Simard and
Makeup Designer: Florence Cornet.
Running time: Two hours 50 minutes with a 30 minute interval
Box Office: 0845 401 5045
Booking to 14th February 2013
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 8th January 2013 at the Royal Albert Hall, Kensington Gore, London SW7 2AP (Tube: South Kensington)

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