We took in Cirque du Soleil last night. Above you can see the Grand Chapiteau (which I suppose roughly translates into “Big Top”) pretty much as it looks set up in the parking lot of the United Center.
The show we saw was called KOOZÅ. No translation was readily apparent, and I was not inclined to shell out the big bucks for a program, but I’m okay with remaining ignorant in that regard. Frankly, I’m not even sure what to make of the curious accent mark above the letter A, so I’m not even sure how to say the word. But all of this frees me up to create my own meaning out of thin air, so here goes:
KOOZÅ is a truncated version of the ancient Babylonian term “Kuzåhoùea.” This was an important festival in the Babylonian culture. On that day, the finest entertainers, athletes, artisans, and engineers from across the kingdom were brought to Babylon for a grand performance event synthesizing all of their assorted specialties into a single spectacle. Months of planning went into each year’s production. To the ordinary citizens, who had little access to life experiences outside of their day-to-day subsistence and duties, this spectacle was utterly magical and seemed to be the work of the gods. This was an important factor, as this was an exceedingly expensive production to stage. Fortunately, the citizens were entirely willing to part with a substantial portion of their wages for the honor of seeing the magic of the gods appear right before their eyes. The festival continued for many generations, until the Roman legions arrived and installed festivals that cost far less to produce and could be replicated in every city and village of the kingdom.
Which reminds me – The Cirque du Soleil gift shop displayed a dazzling array of merchandise, including $50 t-shirts and $75 umbrellas. The one extra I did purchase was a $6 medium popcorn. Shown here is my keepsake from the evening, suitable for framing.
OK, so this was no place for the faint of pocketbook. Let’s talk about the show itself. In a word – WOW! Even with all of the years of hype I’ve heard from friends, co-workers, and the media, this show at times left me with my mouth agape, involuntarily saying things like “Oh my god!” and “WHOOOO!!!” Highlights included a juggler named Anthony Gatto. Now folks, I’ve seen a lot of jugglers in my life, and Mr. Gatto is probably the best one I’ve ever seen. A master technician, a terrific showman; a man who looks to be at the peak of his formidable powers. The only time he dropped anything was while trying to exit at the end of his act. He was putting his clubs into a box and dropped one of them. Other than that, he was flawless and incredible.
Another highlight was a group of 3 female contortionists. After a while, one almost forgot one was watching people. The three of them became a sort of human lava lamp, flowing, growing, shrinking.
Seen here is what, for my money, was the most electrifying part of the show – two Colombians named Jimmy Zapata and Carlos Loaiza. They were aboard a huge rotating piece of chrome I’ll call the Wheel of Death. Picture a double Ferris wheel rotating around a common center, except in this case, each wheel is empty in the center. With no exterior power source, moving only by the leverage and the motions of the two men, this apparatus whipped around at amazing speeds, one man in each wheel. As seen here, sometimes the men rode on the outside of the wheels, constantly scrambling to stay aboard. Some of the aerial acts in the show had their performers discreetly harnessed and cabled, but these two worked without any such safeguards. They were pretty much worth the price of admission all by themselves.
I won’t go into all the details, but suffice it to say that brilliant stagecraft, design, talent, and showmanship abounded throughout the production. For my taste, we could have done with a little less of the clowns (or alternately, they could have been funnier), but that’s a quibble in light of the grand fun we had. Put it this way – we paid $80 a pop for seats that were most of the way back and partially obstructed by a lighting tower, but I’d gladly pay the same amount for the same seats next time around! Though, having said that, I will try to get better seats next time.
Postscript — A search through the World Wide Web demonstrated that Cirque du Soleil works vigorously to limit the dissemination of photographs of their productions. I didn’t bring my camera with me since I knew photos were prohibited during the show but happily, there are a lot of places on the Web from which photos can be purloined.