KOOZA written and directed by David Shiner (Cirque du Soleil). At the Grand Chapiteau (port lands on Cherry). To October 7. $65-$100, stu/srs, child and Tapis Rouge prices available. 1-800-361-4595, www.cirquedusoleil.com. Rating: NNN
Computer-generated images have given us lots of eye candy, but they've reduced our sense of wonder and surprise. Cirque du Soleil 's jaw-dropping acrobatics and stunts - though not their tired clown routines - do a lot to restore them.
Their latest show, Kooza , traces the journey of the Innocent ( Stephan Landry ), who, guided by a trickster figure ( Jason Berrent ), encounters a variety of acts that fall roughly into this pattern: funny, awesome, scary, repeat sequence.
Among the awesome stunts are a trio of young women, looking as if their bodies have been spray-painted, contorting their nimble limbs in perfect unison. Stunning. Just looking at them will give you a backache.
In the second half, juggler Anthony Gatto displays impeccable hand-eye coordination as he tosses and catches balls, bowling pins and various rings, all without being distracted by his sparkly, silver-sequined, Vegas-style suit.
In one of the better scary stunts, Zhang Gongli balances himself on a stack of not-bought-at-Ikea chairs piled dangerously high.
Clad in what looks like a white jockstrap and tights (apart from this flash of beefcake, this Cirque is disappointingly skin-free), Zhang seems a model of Zen calmness.
It's too bad the stunt ends anticlimactically, with Zhang lowering the chairs one by one as he dismounts. Watching a circus troupe of this calibre, you begin to see that exiting a scene with aplomb is as important as executing a perfect move.
This is the first Cirque show I've seen where the performers try to rouse their applause by grandstanding pro-wrestling-style. The effect feels cheap and self-congratulatory by modest Canadian audience standards.
The one act that needs no help applause-wise is the appropriately named Wheel Of Death, which gets an instant ovation and will have you crying out "No way!" while clutching the armrests on your narrow seat.
Difficult to describe, the stunt features two men ( Carlos Enrique Marin Loaiza and Jimmy Ibarra Zapata ) running and jumping within wheels on opposite sides of each other that in turn move a contraption like amusement-park ride The Zipper.
What they do with this 1,600-pound hunk of steel does not seem possible. Think Cirque meets Fear Factor.
Jean-François Coté 's pastiche score and Marie-Chantale Vaillancourt 's costumes both feel intrusive. The harsh brass of the former and the copious ruffles of the latter distract from rather than enhance the effect.
And although writer/director David Shiner 's background is in clowning, Kooza features the most unfunny, predictable bits of clowning I've seen in a professional show. Too bad, because there's a fool king motif in there that, in this time of bumbling conservative leaders, could have provided dark and painfully true laughs.