LiveWire Calgary went behind the scenes with Cirque du Soleil just hours before the opening of KOOZA on Aug. 25, capturing the final preparation as 53 performers from 25 countries get ready to take to the stage.
The final touches were being put on the front-of-house customer experience on Aug. 24, alongside the work being done by the performers, coaches, costumers, lighting staff, and sound staff.
“In KOOZA, you will see very exhilarating acrobatics, you’ll see a double high-wire you’ll see an amazing wheel of death that will keep you at the edge of your seat, you’ll see a teeterboard act that has 19 artists on stage, high flying under the big top,” said Julie Desmarais, senior publicist for KOOZA.
“You have an amazing aerial with [Mizuki Shinagawa], a super romantic number, and a dual unicycle. You will see a combination of traditional circus, but a Cirque du Soleil way of doing things.”
Desmarais said that the show has more than 1,000 costumes—including one very special quick-change costume that the show keeps under wraps.
“Our team is actually very hard at work with the washing, steaming, repairing because we travel from city to city. So wear and tear happens and we have to do a little bit of fixing, and then tomorrow night everything’s gonna come up on stage be lit up and look super nice,” Desmarais said.
She said that includes special precautions being taken for the costumes, like that of Shinagawa’s, which required fire-resistant material to be used to prevent flames from forming as she does her high-friction aerial act.
“There are a lot of little elements that are added into the costumes that we as audience members don’t necessarily see. Because our trickster does a lot of acrobatics, and a lot of sliding on his knees, so we have to actually make those transparent for us as audience members, but also to make the artist comfortable in what they do,” Desmarais said.
There’s always something to be done on tour
Although KOOZA is a long-running and beloved Cirque du Soleil show, there is still work that needs to be done every time a show comes to a new city.
“It takes about two years for a team of creation to build a Cirque du Soleil production. From the moment where we have a concept to the moment where the show is going on stage for a premiere,” Desmarais said.
“Within that team, we have lighting, conceptual sound designers, acrobatic technicians, costume designers, and designer choreographers that will all come together to bring that concept, the vision of the director to life.”
Desmarais said that there were a few surprises just for patrons of KOOZA, that even the performers hadn’t seen yet.
Cirque du Soleil partnered with Village Brewery to create a beer just for the big top. Village Trickster, based on the show’s trickster character and featuring the faces of some of the performers, will only be sold at KOOZA.
The show is also partnering with the 2023 BUMP Festival and CMLC to bring artist Kayla Buium to Calgary to collaborate on a KOOZA-inspired mural at the Vetro and Sasso Condominium buildings on 15 Avenue SE and Macleod Trail.
“It’s always very nice to collaborate with local institutions, and we’re super happy to have Village with us. We’re doing a mural tool in collaboration with CMLC, and so it’s really nice to bring our imprint with local collaborators to not only promote the show, but be part of the community,” Desmarais said.
Tickets for KOOZA are on sale now at www.cirquedusoleil.com/kooza.
Dream that began in Japan
Mizuki Shinagawa’s aerial performance will be one of the first times that it has been shown to KOOZA audiences after recently joining Cirque du Soleil after years of working as a freelance artist internationally.
She said she fell in love with the circus after watching an anime that was about the circus as a young girl, and becoming enamoured with the main character.
“I just decided to be her, as she was a trapeze artist. At that time I was in Japan, and there was no place to do trapeze, so my mom found an aerial studio, and that’s how I started aerial silks. So it wasn’t my first dream, it just was a tool to getting into the circus world,” Shinagawa said.
She said she has been developing her style over many years, with an emphasis on high-speed aerial performances that go beyond the traditional slower styles.
“The way I wanted to express myself was like a dragon or fire, just using the fabric to make it like a moving drawing. What I mean to give to the audience is like, ‘what is this?'”
On stage, Shinagawa can fly through the air but also exhibit a fluid-like grace that seemingly defies the laws of gravity. Her five-minute performance on stage, she said, is the result of 10 years of work.
Shinagawa said that after years of practice, she has come to know just how the aerial fabric moves.
“When I see the winds or see fire or trees, I will come up with some ideas of the images. Then just imagine in here how can I make it that shape,” she said.
Carrying on the traditions of Colombia
Jhon Brayan Sanchez Muñoz is a third-generation high-wire circus performer who’s been performing with KOOZA for the last 10 years.
“It’s a tradition for all my family. My father and my mom used to do high wire, so that’s why I got into this. I saw them working in as a kid and I was like, this is what I really want to do,” he said.
Muñoz said that as a child he was travelling in the circus and that today, he travels with his family with KOOZA.
The high-wire, said Muñoz, is one of the traditional art forms of Colombia.
“If you’re thinking of having high-wire artists, you must see what is in Colombia, what they have, because in Colombia it’s like a traditional art,” he said.
He said that even before he was cast in KOOZA, he was a fan of the show. One of his cousins was performing and told him to audition when a spot opened up for a high-wire artist.
“When you come to see KOOZA, it will be an incredible sensation like a roller coaster of feelings. You will be amazed, you will be a little bit calmed down, chilled out a little bit—so it has everything,” Muñoz said.
During the pre-performances on Thursday, Muñoz and his fellow cast members were working their way up to performance level. The work, he said, was something that had to be done every time the cast arrived at a new city.
Different humidity, different air pressure, and other environmental factors make each performance different. On Thursday, Muñoz was veering slightly right after running past the halfway point of the high wire.
“We start walking hours and hours before we run on the wire. The first day of training, we start working hours and hours and in our minds we are like OK, ‘got this, this is what we do.’ And yeah, it’s like coming back.”