Cirque du Soleil’s Kooza: an experience full of contortion, vibrance and exercise

So many wonderfully talented people are performing within Cirque du Soleil’s Kooza, that it is amazing how its performances under the big top can be coordinated in such a way. It’s quite the production; heading backstage, I see gym equipment sprawled out within the backend of the performance area, while artists (of the trapeze, dance or acrobatic variety) work their guns and a variety of staff members have their own jobs to do.

For the artists, the journey to get onto the Cirque stage was an ambitious one. Australian acrobat Laura Kmetko definitely was no exception, “I started working (with the circus) when I was young, firstly doing ballet and then getting into gymnastics at seven years old… I finished three years in circus training before I got the contract here with Kooza”.

Laura is one of many skilled performers who has this physical ability to awe-inspire. But anyone who has gone to see any circus show (not simply Cirque du Soleil) knows it’s a team effort, and the skill for acrobats to also work with others who are not only acrobats, but clowns, dancers and others at Cirque is a factor that Laura has needed to adapt to.

Photo: Philippe Perez

Artistic Director Dean Harvey explains this when talking about the origins of Kooza, which intends to bring back traditional circus performance with a modern twist, “This is going back to the origins of Cirque du Soleil. Combining the two circus traditions of clowning – making the show fun and light – but also with the absolute high skill of acrobatics. We really want to support and showcase all of this in this show.”

There are two acts that particularly showcase this in Kooza. Firstly there’s ‘The Skeleton Dance’, comprising of many dancers moving about, popping up below the stage and setting out a spectacularly glamorous choreographed dance sequence gives a nod to Mexican holiday of ‘Dia de Muertos.’ It’s a sequence surely to blow any audience members minds not only with the choreography but due to the dazzling skeletal costumes performers wear.

The second act that will definitely stun audiences – ‘The Contortion Act’ – is a smooth artistic beauty of a performance that flows across the large stage. With only two performers utilising the space, it not only looks cosy, but impressive as well when seen close up.

“In some ways, it feels very intimate,” Laura Kmetko confirms when talking about performing in the physical space. “There are 2500 seats where there are people around and the seats being in a tier-type format, everyone is close by in a way. It provides a bit of an atmosphere. Doing something creative brings that energy alive within the big top.”

Does Laura actually feel intimidated in the scenario, considering the high-risk nature of her part in the show? “It’s not really a challenge for me, the epic scale of some of the apparatus in such an enclosed space builds the intensity of what you experience when you watch the show.”

Australian acrobat Laura Kmetko. Photo credit: Cirque du Soleil

Genevieve Deslandes, the so-called ‘mom/dad of everybody’ at Cirque du Soleil has certainly put in a lot of effort to getting this operation going. While not actually being involved in the production itself, her insight into making everything run smoothly each and every night requires plenty of time to prepare.

“It’s a two-year creative process. In 2005 the process started for us to open in 2007 (Kooza is a production returning to Cirque’s roots). It’s the same time around here,” Deslandes says.

She, however, can recall the creative idea that sparked Kooza, and she, along with Harvey, is proud of the fact that the performance reflects this in many ways, “The main idea behind Kooza is that we wanted a circus that came out of a surprise box. The jack-in-a-box was actually the starting point of this story.”

Speaking to Harvey you can sense a hint of a satisfied mind, knowing that everyone is prepared when the show lights up. It’s an observation confirmed looking through the back of the big top, with the throng of people walking about lifting weights in the mini gym – ensuring they are physically fit for their performance tonight, and every night.

“The professionalism and high standards that the performers that Cirque has is the same everywhere – in all aspects of putting this show on. Also, what I have learned when being in this role is that we need to maintain that level. Everyone here is absolutely dedicated to maintaining their craft and wanting to keep it at that level.” Harvey says this with a nourishing smile on his face. He surely knows that Kooza has a special place in Cirque du Soleil’s heart, and he has made sure it’s all come together perfectly.

Cirque du Soleil’s Kooza is enjoying performances under the Big Top at the Flemington Racecourse in Melbourne until March 26th, when it moves to Perth’s Belmont Park Racecourse, from Apr 13th – May 7th. Grab yourself more details and tickets here.

We initially reviewed this production back in August as well when it was playing in Sydney. Check that review out here.