Inside the Big Top with Cirque De Soleil’s: KOOZA

Writing by: Adrienne Dever
Photography by: Lauren Ussary

On the subject of art, what first comes to mind for most people is paint on canvas. However there are many other mediums, including the kind that is living and breathing, which is an experience for all your senses and that is ever-changing…it’s called performance art. The performers at Cirque de Soleil’s KOOZA have mastered it and, after a decade of evading Austin, the big top finally returned, bringing one of the most captivating performing arts shows with it.

KOOZA is an all-encompassing show about innocence and trickery, which will have your attention from the moment you sit down.

The show goes back to the tradition of Cirque de Soleil, which brought together the art of clowning and acrobatic work. The main character, The Innocent, is in search of a place where he feels like he fits in. When he stumbles into a world created by The Trickster, he meets a number of colorful characters along the way.

An experience of fear, identity, recognition and power is what the audience can expect throughout the show, with the costumes to match that theme, like skeletons and their leader in a robe made of rats and Dia de los Muertos-inspired mask.

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Skeleton Masks and “Death” mask worn at the end of the show

Insider Fun Fact:The 18 flags that fly in the front of the big top represent the different countries the 50 performers are from.

Performance art requires a very different kind of preparation than other media. The performer becomes his art, encompassing everything the character is supposed to be, which is why the first step for most of them is character analysis.

Performer Joey Arrigo holds one of the main roles of the show as The Trickster, a vivacious character that creates a whole new world for both the audience and the protagonist.

“We really looked into the character: how he thinks, moves and interacts with the other main character, The Innocent,” said Arrigo, “Which is what I needed because the other stuff – dancing and acrobatics – came naturally to me.”

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The Trickster, as portrayed by actor Joey Arrigo; photo by Annika Franco

The phrase “practice makes perfect” especially stands true with these performers. There are at least two or three acts practicing or warming-up in various locations under the big top at any time. Whether it is playing some sort of net-and-ball game, training on workout equipment or practicing the act on the main stage.

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Performers practicing on the final act: The Wheel of Death.

Of course, it’s not all left up to the performers to bring a show like this together. Behind the scenes is a team who works countless hours on costumes (a constant on-going process), and there are in-house seamstresses who are always tweaking and mending the outfits to make then show-ready. Not to mention there is also stage set-up, which takes hours to perfect the mechanics of the 10 different acts performed throughout the show, such as the high wire, balancing chairs and wheel of death.

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Behind-the-scenes team sewing details onto costumes

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Top left: skirts used during opening dance, Top right: hair attachments Bottom left: Sewing machines and costume holding, Bottom right: “The Bad Dog” head

Insider Fun Fact:Monday’s are “dark days” (off days) for the performers, when they get to go explore whatever city they are in. Joey Arrigo’s favorite place to eat in Austin is The Grove..

KOOZA is an evolving show, where the performers are encouraged to change and improve while on stage. This not only makes it exciting for the performers but for the audience as well. It also allows the artists more freedom to interact with the crowd, essentially giving their reactions to the audience’s reactions.

“It’s fun when you get to that point (as a performer) where you can start playing with the character,” said Arrigo, “and changing things up in the way you interact with other characters on stage.”

KOOZA will be in Austin until October 8th, so there is still time to go out and experience the magic and excitement that it has to offer. Get tickets here

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Writing by: Adrienne Dever
Photography by: Lauren Ussary, except when noted


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