Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay

Cirque du Soleil
Review by Patrick Thomas

Also see Patrick's recent reviews of Babes in Ho-lland and Miriam and Esther Go to the Diamond District and The Wiz

The Cast
Photo by Matt Beard and Bernard Letendre
Over their nearly four decades, Cirque du Soleil has completed transformed the world's idea of what a circus can–and should–be. There are things you'd expect to find at a circus.Hhigh wire acts? Check. Clowns? Check. Dancing bears or elephants balancing on platforms? Not a chance. What separates Cirque du Soleil shows from other circuses is how seamlessly and artfully they incorporate a sense of story and theatricality into the stunts and skills that generally compose a circus. With Cirque, their artistry is always equal to their athleticism.

Their most recent show to visit the Bay Area, Kooza, is currently playing in parking lot A behind Oracle Park, and moves on to the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds in April. As with all of the ten or so Cirque shows I've had the pleasure to experience, this one combines thrills, humor, gasp-inducing stunts, live music, color, and light–and blends it all into an evening in which the entertainment never lets up.

The story that threads through Kooza is–as in most Cirque shows–simple, and told through iconography, symbolism, movement and mime. Here, a naïf (identified by Cirque as "The Innocent," and performed by Cédric Bélisle) is flying a kite when he is interrupted by a delivery person on an adult-size tricycle, leaving behind a box. (But only after demanding The Innocent sign for the package–via a multi-page form that put me in mind of all the "terms and conditions" documents I have clicked "OK" on without ever reading.) When the box is opened, The Innocent is seemingly transported into another realm, and treated to a spectacle of joy and wonder that he gets to control through the use of a wand that controls lights and sound and summons performers to the stage.

The iconography continues with other characters in the show: the King (Jesse Buck), who is obsessed with his crown as a symbol of his power and functions as his own court jester; the Trickster (Joey Vice); and an array of clowns who serve as bringers of chaos.

Some of the circus skills on display are of the sort you might see in any circus–wire walkers, contortionists, aerial silks, acrobats propelled into the air via a teeterboard–but it's unlikely you will ever see them performed with such skill, daring, amplitude or imagination. Then there are elements and apparatus unique to Cirque du Soleil, like the "Wheel of Death," on which daring Colombian performers (Jimmy Ibarra Zapata and Angelo Lyezkysky Rodriguez) ride what are basically two large hamster wheels at either end of a large rotating structure. They do so with such grace and courage that had the entire audience gasping in wonder and cheering with delight.

In the new world to which The Innocent has been transported, the ordinary laws of physics don't seem to apply–at least not given what we are treated to on, and above, the stage. It's rather like a smartphone game–there always seems to be one more level the performers achieve. In Cirque, it's not enough to merely ride a unicycle; here, Dmytro Dudnyk brings another performer along for the ride, spinning her around his waist while riding, and even balancing her on his head. It's not enough to walk across a wire strung 30 or so feet above the stage; you have to ride a bicycle linked to another bicycle, with another acrobat balancing on a chair that is itself balanced on a dowel between both bikes that is not much thicker than a broomstick.

If you go–and I strongly encourage you do, as we can all use a little more wonder and awe, I think–make sure you arrive early enough to enjoy the clowns working the stage before the show, and messing with some of the patrons. These performers are doing some of the most skilled clowning you are likely to find on any stage anywhere. In fact, you're unlikely to find anything resembling Kooza, except in the dozen or so other Cirque shows currently installed in Las Vegas (and other locations), or touring the world.

Kooza runs through March 17, 2024, in the Big Top set up in Lot A behind Oracle Park, and from April 18-May 19 the Big Top will be raised on the grounds of the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds in San Jose. Tickets are $39-$349. For tickets and information, please visit