When Cirque Du Soleil first formed in ‘84, its goal was to shift the emphasis away from animals doing tricks and focus instead on the dynamic possibilities of the human form. Kooza makes good on that promise, delivering a celebratory, dizzying spectacle with more heart-stopping stunts than you may be able to handle.

Acrobats and clowns take center stage in this joyful production, which first debuted back in 2007 and has since been seen in 22 countries around the world. This return engagement under the Big Top in the Old Port marks an overdue homecoming for Cirque, after the terrible strains of the Covid-19 pandemic saw the company forced to pause 44 productions worldwide, file for bankruptcy protection and lay off thousands of workers. Judging by audience reactions this week, Montrealers are ecstatic to see Cirque reemerge in grand style on home turf with a show that speaks to the spirit of its artistic mission.

The colorful cast of Kooza tell the story of a child – the Innocent – as he’s welcomed into a whimsical world of wonders by a magical being – the Trickster – who helps his imagination take flight. If that premise sounds somewhat similar to a book you may have read as a child, bear in mind that it sprung from the mind of celebrated mime/clown David Shiner, who directed the original production and went on to star as – go figure – The Cat In the Hat in Seussical on Broadway.

As soon as he enters this vibrant new realm, the Innocent (Cédric Bélisle) finds himself in the presence of a King (François-Guillaume Leblanc) and his aids (Miguel Berlanga Madrono and Sean Kempton), who spend the majority of the show trying to reunite His Majesty with his crown. This simple concept is elaborated upon to great comedic effect, with Leblanc clearly having the time of his life, wriggling like a cartoon character made flesh. A warning, however: do not wear a hat to the show or he might end up swiping it and using it as a substitute.

Of course, for many the real draw here are the acrobats and in that regard this production does not disappoint. Three contortionists (Sunderiya Jargalsaikhan, Ninjin Altankhuyag and Sender Enkhtur) get the party started early with their mesmerizing formations and from there, Kooza’s motto might as well be “good things come in threes”, as a trio of highwire daredevils (Vicente Quiros Dominguez, Roberto Quiros Dominguez and Flouber Sanchez) up the ante with a goosebump-producing performance that’ll have you on the edge of your seat.

It’s one thing to see a performer navigate a tightrope without falling and quite another to see three men attempting it while supporting one another and dealing with bicycles, poles and chair. Set it all to some pulse-pounding music supplied by a six-piece band and two singers (Joanie Goyette and Kathryn Holtkamp) and you may just need to bust out the smelling salts.

Kooza’s true tour-de-force, however, is the terrifying Wheel of Death, which sees two thrill-seekers (Ronaldo Solis Montes and Angelo Lyerzkysky Rodriguez) spinning around the stage so quickly they become airborne themselves.

With highs, lows and near-misses, it’s an exhilarating display of daring and exactly the kind of number that makes one wonder whether these performers might possibly be from another world. Such is the magic of Cirque.

And yet, that magic is equally present in Kooza’s quieter moments as well, such as when one acrobat (Ghislain Ramage) spins himself around the stage in the ‘Roue Cyr’, gracefully suggesting the strength and resilient nature of man from one fluid movement to another.

It’s a literal full-circle moment for Cirque du Soleil in a show that continually reminds us that all we really need – as we spin around on this crazy little sphere we call home, narrowly avoiding disaster at every turn – is some flexibility, imagination and a good sense of humor.

Welcome back, Cirque. It’s been too long.

For ticket information, visit the Cirque du Soleil website. Kooza runs until August 14th at the Big Top at Jacques-Cartier Pier and then transfers to Gatineau, where it will run from August 25th until September 25th.

Images courtesy of Cirque du Soleil