'Kooza' dazzles in Hartford stop

"Kooza's" Charivari perform feats of balance, sometimes atop multiple balls. Photo by Marie-Chantale Vaillancourt; courtesy of Cirque du soleil.
By Debbie Gardner

PRIME Editor

HARTFORD Nearly every seat in the house was full for the April 1 opening night performance of Cirque du Soleil's newest touring show, "Kooza," at Market Street in Hartford.

And before the curtain went up, this stop had already planned to extend its run through April 27 to accommodate would-be show-goers.

It seems no matter what the economic climate, people flock to this circus.

Why, you might ask?

Because the aura, the music, the pageantry, the sheer spectacle and breathtaking feats of athletic ability that are the hallmarks of a Cirque show truly make attending a performance an experience like no other live entertainment.

Believe me, it's easy to get hooked.

I have had the privilege to review three Cirque du Solei shows "La Nouba," in residence at Walt Disney World in Florida, the tour of "Varekai" in Hartford in 2005 and this year's performance of "Kooza," and I have to say that the artistic directors who create these feasts for the eyes and the ears never cease to amaze me.

This time it was a trio of acts that really caught my attention. The graceful, entertwined acrobatics of the Duo Unicycle performers was as sensual as lovers embracing. The feats of skill of the Wheel of Death artists were heart-stopping at points in the act the two men hung weightless, first in the center of each ring as they spun; at another they leapt free of the outer frame to pause briefly in moments of time and space . as the crowd gasped. And the stilt-wearing precision jumping of the teeterboard artists was something I had never seen before.

Still, I can't overlook the beauty and grace of the trio of contortionists, whose twisted tableau at times reminded me of a flower in bloom. Nor can I recall ever seeing a double high wire act such as the one in "Kooza"; by that I mean four artists on two wires -- one below the other -- at once. At one obviously unplanned moment this act, too, became heart-stopping.

I was less enthralled with the heavy emphasis on clowning in this show, though the press material I'd received ahead of time did say this tour reflected a "return to the origins of Cirque do Soleil that combines two circus traditions . acrobatic performance and the art of clowning."

In "Kooza," the clowning relies heavily on audience participation, something that worked better with some volunteers than others the night I saw the show.

Still, I loved it. It was a great show, one that featured a more upbeat, modern score with lots of percussion (there was even a mainstage drum solo that covered a change of acts) and less emphasis on a storyline than the Cirque shows I've seen in the past.

With "Kooza," it was OK to just sit and be dazzled and amazed and entertained.

"Kooza" will be in Hartford through April 27, with performances Tuesday through Thursday at 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 4 and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 1 and 5 p.m. Tickets: $50 -- $85 for adults, $35 -- 59.50 for children two -- 12, $45 -- $76.50 for students on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday only.

Call 1-800-678-5440 or visit www.cirquedusoleil.com for availability.