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Cirque du Soleil's 'Kooza' is a Return to Its Origins

This vibrant performance, held under the big top, circles back to what made the circus group popular in the first place.


The main characters of “Kooza” include clowns known as the Innocent (left) and the Trickster. Photo courtesy of Cirque du Soleil
 

From circus acts performed by a small troupe on the streets in Quebec, Canada, to internationally renowned touring shows, there’s no doubt that Cirque du Soleil has reshaped how those around the world view the circus – and as “Kooza” returns to Orange County, that splendor is being put on full display once again.


Showing in the parking lot of the now-closed Laguna Hills Mall through Aug. 4, this marks its first appearance in the region since a stint at the Orange County Great Park back in 2010. The last Cirque show to cycle through the area was “Luzia” in 2018. “Volta” was getting ready at the OC Fairgrounds in 2020, but ultimately was canceled due to the pandemic.


“Kooza” is “built around two circus traditions: acrobatic performance and the art of clowning,” says Rob Tannion, the show’s artistic director. “The acrobatics are so adrenaline-driven and heart-stopping that we need that moment to take a breath. In ‘Kooza,’ I like to say that our clowns offer us not only the space for comic relief, but also the chance for the show to connect directly to people.”


David Shiner, the writer and director of the show and a clown in his own right, designed the “Kooza” with human performance and connection at the center – a theme that connects the majority of Cirque du Soleil presentations. The entertainment group has become a household name, largely due to the colorful artistry that permeates its performances, but also because of its use of imaginative storytelling and audience interaction — all of which is explored in “Kooza.”



PHOTO 1: “Kooza” by Cirque du Soleil is now showing at the former Laguna Hills Mall. PHOTO 2: Vibrant costumes reflect the overall artistry of the show. PHOTO 3: “Kooza” immerses the audience in a fun and colorful world of mischief. PHOTO 4: Heart-stopping acts will leave audiences mesmerized. PHOTO 5: Musicians, including Kathryn Holtkamp (right), who is the show’s Spirit Singer. PHOTO 6: The dedicated cast of “Kooza” comes from all over the world. Photos courtesy of Cirque du Soleil


Refreshed & Reimagined

Situated in the parking lot of what was once the Laguna Hills Mall, which closed its doors at the end of 2018, the production is bringing new life to the long-shuttered shopping center. Having been approved for multiple planned renovations in the last five years, including the Five Lagunas and, more recently, The Village at Laguna Hills, the former mall still remains quietly in limbo. Though ground has not yet been broken, the project is expected to be completed in phases over the next 15 years.


Cirque du Soleil shows had to be shut down worldwide when the COVID-19 pandemic struck, but when “Kooza” relaunched in 2022, showrunners decided it was time for an update. Combining new skits for the clowns with classic circus traditions, the production maintains a throwback feel that will transport you back to the olden days.


“The acrobatic acts hearken back to the origins of circus, which give the show a nostalgic feel – and yet some of the acts are so unique and can’t be seen anywhere else,” says Kathryn Holtkamp, a vocalist who plays the Spirit Singer in the show.


One big difference between traditional touring circuses and these modern performances is the lack of animal actors. Visitors won’t be missing a thing without lion taming and monkeys doing tricks, as the talent is top-notch. Holtkamp is joined by the Soul Singer and a six-piece band, with all music performed live in a variety of styles. Meanwhile, acts include contortion, human pyramids, high-wire feats, aerial silk acrobatics, unicyclists, Icarian games and artists leaping over the 1,600-pound Wheel of Death.


“If I had to choose, one of my favorite moments is at the beginning of the show when the Trickster opens the void and the Bataclain – a stunning three-story structure that moves and (is) where the band is playing – is revealed,” Holtkamp says. “It’s such a powerful moment that opens the show and welcomes the audience into our spectacular world of ‘Kooza.’ ”


These jaw-dropping exploits are all part of a bigger story, which follows the naive Innocent as he navigates a realm created by the cunning Trickster. He encounters a number of other characters along the way, weaving in themes of identity, power and fear among the thrilling surprises. “The story is beautiful in its simplicity and how relatable it is to everyone that sees it,” Holtkamp says. “It touches people’s hearts in a truly soulful way.”


Tannion agrees that the production is special, with an easy-to-follow storyline and talented performers who really care about their work. “Everything is possible with ‘Kooza’ and that is why it resonates with our audiences,” he says.





PHOTO 1: Talented performers make up the cast of this long-running show, with circus acts serving as the main appeal. PHOTO 2: Contortionists showcase their skills during “Kooza.” PHOTO 3: Unicyclists performing during the show. PHOTO 4: The Wheel of Death weighs 1,600 pounds. PHOTO 5: Balancing on chairs is one of the feats acrobatics perform during the show. PHOTO 6: Heart-stopping acts will leave audiences mesmerized. PHOTO 7: An aerial silk performer showcases her talent. Photos courtesy of Cirque du Soleil


Treasured Talent

With upwards of 50 artists, “Kooza” is loaded with talent and, though she is one of many, Holtkamp has nothing but positivity to reveal about the experience. “It is (my first show with the company,) but it had been a dream of mine for a very long time to sing with Cirque du Soleil,” she says. “When I was a kid, I saw a recording of ‘Dralion’ featuring Agnés Sohier as one of the singers, and her voice and performance inspired this dream. Seeing her fly down from the grid in the big top singing the soaring melody of ‘Ledjendia’ is a moment that will always inspire me.”


Surely others have similar stories as Cirque du Soleil has been enthralling audiences since the 1980s. In fact, some in the current show are multigenerational circus performers who have spent years honing their craft. And with the cast and crew encompassing more than 30 different nationalities, the show is just as varied on paper as it is in technique. “The diversity of culture and experience is what makes this performance so uniquely special,” Tannion says.


Aside from the music and circus acts, artistry is evident in the costumes as well. Costume designer Marie-Chantale Vaillancourt draws inspiration from a number of sources, from time-travel movies and children’s book illustrations to Eastern European culture and even clock movements. In addition to these custom pieces, Vaillancourt researched the quick-change procedures used by magicians to ensure that the mysticism of the production carries over into the outfits used.


The set design, however, is less of the focus. A circular stage evokes the feeling of a vintage circus ring with 260-degree views, intended to keep the focus on the performers in order to ensure that human performance remains the core component of the show. 


“The set is minimalist. The costumes reflect the vision of the ‘Kooza’ kingdom and music is the heart of the story as it connects each scene and amplifies what our guests bear witness to onstage,” Tannion says. “It is beyond a show: ‘Kooza’ is truly an experience like no other that cannot be missed.”


‘Kooza’

When: Through Aug. 4; showtimes are 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays through Fridays; 3:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturdays (with an additional noon show select Saturdays); 1 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. Sundays; no show on July 4

Where: 24155 Laguna Hills Mall, Laguna Hills 

Cost: $55-$80

Contact: cirquedusoleil.com


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