Reviews: "Kooza" and "Cirque Shanghai"

Run Away and Join The Cirques!!

By Venus Zarris

I remember my first visit to the Ringling Brother’s circus at the International Amphitheater when I was a small child. Three rings of amazing delights and exotic animals were almost more than I could handle. Even in the ‘nose bleed’ seats the impact left a permanent impression. I was overwhelmed by the spectacle of it and have been a circus fan ever since.

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Baily set the American standard for circus extravaganzas but since then there have been some wonderful imports that have broke the mold by reinventing the experience.

As if summer in Chicago isn’t already filled with wonderful opportunities for theatrical fun, there are currently TWO world-class circus options that are sure to thrill and amaze. Although vastly different experiences, both are equally entertaining. KOOZA – Cirque du Soleil is on the high end of production values as well as ticket price. $55-$125 per ticket may seem steep but the payoff is over 2 ½ hours of spellbinding bliss. There is a reason why Cirque du Soleil has a devoted fan base. They truly create another world, thereby making the escape from reality an absolute immersion into fantasy, before the first trick is even performed.

Cirque Shanghai: Gold, on the other hand, is lighter on production values and fantastical concept but more than makes up for this with 1 ½ hour of non-stop amazing acrobatic excellence. It possesses a beautiful charm that comes not from fabricated artifice but rather from a surprisingly heartwarming connection between the audience and the brilliant performers. At $14.50-$29.50 a ticket, it is also more family friendly as well as wallet friendly, especially during the current economic crunch.

There is something unparalleled about seeing both of these unique productions live. “Death Defying Acts” is just a circus catchphrase until you witness the dangers and dares first hand. There is nothing supernatural, but there is genuine magic created by all of these performers who have devoted their lives to becoming the best in their fields. Both Cirques are sure to rank as highlights of the summer as well as provide memories for years to come.

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KOOZA – Cirque du Soleil

The spectacle is nothing short of a spellbinding, jaw dropping, eye popping, sensational, magical and death defying sensory overload. This may sound like a bag of clichéd descriptive exaggerations, when in fact they are actually understatements compared to the otherworldly delights that await you under the big blue and yellow striped tent.

Kooza2 As you walk in you are struck by the sheer magnitude of technical engineering contraptions that are implemented to execute such a grand transformation in a parking lot. The pre-show antics of the small clown troupe warm up the crowd. Normally circus clowns fall in between the range of corny to creepy but these jokers are actually hilarious.

When the show officially starts you are in for 2 ½ hours of mind boggling visceral fireworks. Between the costumes, lighting design, production design, thrilling music delivered through an acoustically perfect sound system, and best-in-their-field world class performers; ‘KOOZA’ quite simply delivers the most whimsically lavish and lovely production values. The occasional ‘jazz hands’ tossed into the playful choreography made me imagine that Bob Fosse would have adored the flawless showmanship.

'Kooza' - now playing at the United Center through September

The opening sequence starts out simple with an ‘innocent’ flying a kite. There is a lovely connection to the sweet little person but when he receives a special delivery life sized jack-in-the-box and the ‘trickster’ appears all bets are off. The stage fills with color, life and sound. As the ornate three story orchestra tower is revealed there is a flashback to Japanese animator Miyazaki’s ‘Howl’s Moving Castle’. This sets the stage for an experience that actually makes the surreal visual extremes of Japanese animation seem commonplace.

Kooza8 Every act thrills, amazes and delights. ‘KOOZA’ takes personal offense to gravity, as there are several gasp inducing aerial acts. The stage is almost underused for the volume of overhead amazements but the beautiful grounded triplets of synchronized shiny contortion almost steal the show. Their flexibility is hard to describe as human and at times almost sickeningly unnatural. One maneuver resembles the deleted ‘spider scene’ from the ‘Exorcist.’

Demons, angels and everything in between captivate beyond your wildest dreams. It is hard to imagine that two men perilously spinning on a giant double wheel of death can be followed by anything, much less a pickpocket, but the acts flow brilliantly. Your nerves are given occasional breaks from the more dangerous exhibits but the thrills are constant. Cirque du Soleil’s KOOZA is an explosion of miracles that should not be missed!

Rating: ««««

(“KOOZA – Cirque du Soleilruns through August 24 at the Grand Chapiteau, United Center parking lot K, 1901 W. Madison Street. 800-678-5440)

Kooza7 Kooza9

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Cirque Shanghai: Gold

Among the many amazing achievements of this foray into exotic entertainment, Cirque Shanghai: Gold illustrated a cultural difference that I had heretofore not realized. Other than a vehicle for serving food, in China, plates can be spun on the end of sticks by flexible acrobats to create dazzling visual tricks. Whereas in Greece, we get drunk, toss them on the ground and yell, ‘Opa!’

cirqueshanghai1 If you are tired of the day-to-day grind, uninspired by the offerings of summertime blockbusters or simply want to escape into the world of something unusually magical, Cirque Shanghai: Gold should not be missed! We left the show with an adrenaline rush that made us literally feel like five-year-old children. Chocked full of moments that range from ‘DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME!,’ to ‘NO WAY!,’ to ‘HOLY SHIT!,’ you cannot help but be astonished and overwhelmed by these award wining international athletic superstars.

Now, I realize that ‘Superstar’ is a word that gets thrown around quite freely in this country, but forget TV’s ‘Celebrity Circus.’ These miraculous performers are the real deal! And despite their otherworldly abilities to seemingly defy the laws of gravity and physics, these charming gymnastic geniuses perform their feats of daring acrobatic accomplishment without the slightest air of pretense or bravado. As a matter of fact, you can’t help but fall in love with their contagious warmth and humble enthusiasm. I found myself wanting to throw a party for the entire lovable cast so I could shower them with prizes and affection.

Just when you think that they can’t possibly out due the astounding act you witnessed, your jaw drops at the following flabbergaster. The flexibility alone elicits profound feelings of personal inadequacy as they do things that a normal body could only duplicate during a lethal fall down several flights of stairs!

cirqueshanghai2 As if the talent on stage isn’t enough, the exceptionally creative team behind the scenes is outstanding. Director Sylvia Hase hails from Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus. Emmy Award-winner Steve Base provides the conceptual design. Choreographer Brenda Didier and lighting/scenic designer Brian Sidney Bembridge, both Chicago based award-winners, round off the visionary team.

But the beautifully brilliant costumes, lighting, music and dancing pale next to these genuinely gifted performers who not only entertain beyond your wildest dreams but also serve as incomparable ambassadors of international good will. I hope that their stay in Chicago returns to them at least some of the joy that they offer everyone who watches this wonderful all-ages treat! The acrobats explode with dazzling talent making ‘Cirque Shanghai: Gold’ a spectacular display of human fireworks and 90 minutes of sheer delight!

Rating: ««««

(“Cirque Shanghai: Gold” runs through Sept. 1 at The Skyline Stage on Navy Pier. 312-902-1500)

CirqueShanghai

3 Responses

  1. Nice post, you got some good points there – thank you.

  2. Thank you and I hope that you get to see the shows.

  3. Bookmarked this. Thank you for sharing. Positively value my time.

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