Cirque du Soleil is back in Toronto! (Review)

In what’s starting to look like an annual tradition, Cirque du Soleil is back in Toronto, this time with its long-running Koozå, which premiered back in 2007. Everything you know and love about Cirque is on fine display here, from the beautiful costumes to the wild stunts.

Cirque du Soleil
Highwire Act

The long, proud tradition of instantly forgettable Cirque du Soleil stories continues in Koozå, which borrows liberally from Where the Wild Things Are to tell the story of a child (played, awkwardly, by an adult man) drawn to a mysterious land. (Yes, an oversized crown figures prominently.) Really, it’s all just an excuse to (barely) thread together a succession of jaw-droppingly impressive human circus acts, some of which return from last year’s Kurios. Also, there are clowns. The clowns are awful. But they’re part of the package.

Not that any of that really matters: each time I attend Cirque, I come in excited and walk away with my mind properly blown. This time out, highlights include a quadruple highwire act, teeterboard acrobatics, and Cirque’s famed wheel of death, a giant rotating apparatus with what appears to be a hamster wheel affixed to each end.

Also, compared to previous Cirques, this one is just a teeny bit spookier. While it never goes full-bore horror, the second act, which begins with a highly entertaining skeleton dance and transitions into the aforementioned wheel of death, does include a few moments that genuinely had me gripping the edge of my seat. Which, all things considered, is a good thing: while I enjoy the traditional contortionist/acrobatic feats, every once in a while, you need a good jolt of “oh my god is he going to fall” to get the blood pumping.

Cirque du Soleil
Skeleton Dance

At the risk of spoiling the experience, it’s worth the reminder of what generally to expect at a Cirque performance.

To begin with, there are the godawful clowns. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the art of the clown – just ask Chip Baskets – but the Cirque du Soleil idea of a joke is to have grown men run around on stage pretending to strangle an imaginary cat. The audience participation bits are a bit better – it’s never not funny to see some poor suburban dad try to keep up with a couple dorks in silly costumes – but on the whole Koozå would be better off without all the clowning.

The meat of the show is, of course, the feats of strength and gymnastics that never cease to be anything less than amazing. While there’s some fairly standard stuff, including the contortionists and chair balancing acts which seem to be part of every Cirque show (albeit, still impressive in every show), there are also a few exciting wrinkles.

Cirque du Soleil
Aerial Silks

The quartet of highwire acrobats, whose escalating antics lead to audible gasps from the audience, is particularly good, hinting at danger even as any potential fall is protected by some well-placed netting. The same goes for the wheel of death, which spins faster and faster while a pair of acrobats compete to see who can do the most terrifying leaps or flips from their “hamster wheel”.

Cirque has also long been lauded for its magical aesthetic, with beautiful flowing costumes and evocative lighting. These aspects are particularly present in Koozå’s aerial silks performance, all glowing red and undulating waves of ribbon, and in the surprisingly elegant hula hoops act, thanks to the sparkling decorations on the metallic hoops. In these moments, Cirque most clearly resembles the wonderful work of Canadian director Robert Lepage, who has designed a handful of Cirque shows over the years, albeit not Koozå.

Cirque du Soleil
Wheel of Death

Those with fond memories of Cirque, dating all the way back to its earliest performances here in the 1980s, will find much to love about Koozå. It’s not quite the magical spectacle of the Lepage shows, but then not every director is Robert Lepage.

Admittedly, some may balk at the cost of entry, with tickets running upwards of $300 for the “VIP experience”. However, prospective audiences should know that, thanks to the “in the round” setup, there really isn’t a bad seat in the house. Even those at the very back and to the side, where tickets run at a slightly more respectable $100, will have a great view of the action on stage.

And they won’t run any risk of being tormented by clowns.

For tickets to Cirque du Soleil’s Kooza, on now until June 18, 2023, click here.