Sunday, June 7, 2009

KOOZA!

It’s Friday night in New York City. The heavy summer rainfall that began early this morning shows no sign of letting up. Just like New Yorkers, rain in this city is no laughing matter; it is full of energy and alive with purpose. Each raindrop bounces off the hot pavement and clings to the bottom of your pants, soaking your ankles, flooding your toes, and sending your shoes flying from your slippery feet. (Fashion tip: wearing rubber flip-flops on a rainy day in this city is a very bad idea).

So, what to do on such a day? Option: hunker down, stay indoors, stay dry. Better idea: don sensible shoes, head out to Randall's Island, and step inside the fantasy world of musical and visual delights that is Kooza.

Cirque du Soleil's production of Kooza might just be the most fun I have ever had in a tent. (This from a girl who has spent a good deal of her life camping). Overshadowing the bleakness of Randall’s Island and compensating for a cruddy day of weather, the gigantic blue and gold-striped structure transforms its dreary surroundings into a happy and colorful place. The tent itself is a marvel, and from the moment I step inside, I am transported to another world: that carefree, circus-like world where reality disintegrates to make room for pure fun. Rain-resistant fun.

The performance itself is phenomenal. The story begins, thunderous music strikes, and the tent is brought to life as a sea of performers flood the stage, costumed in rich shades of red and gold. What ensues is purely amazing, and somewhere around 10 minutes in, I realize my face is frozen into an expression that is half stupefied grinning, half jaw-dropping awe.

Time and again, a thick red curtain set toward the stage’s rear is drawn aside, revealing one tremendous act after another: a duet of contortionists, two young women who might be triple-jointed if there is such a thing. In perfect unison, their bodies twist and curl into ridiculously impossible shapes that make my five years of yoga practice seem like an absolute joke. The bare-chested unicyclist, who never misses a beat (or a peddle) as he lifts and flips his lithe partner over and onto his head. There she stands tall and erect, her feet firmly planted into the top of his skull. The tight-rope walkers, the juggler, the high-flying trapeze artist, the crazy dude who climbs a ladder of chairs... one after another, an endless succession of impossibly fabulous acts unfolds, interrupted by silly interludes that call upon audience members to volunteer for some harmless public ridicule.

Throughout the show, the global blend of music is otherworldly – sometimes sensual, other times heart-pounding, always thrilling. Raised high above the stage is a small orchestra, and the lead singer, a beautiful Indian woman, has that kind of mesmerizing voice and presence that lifts you up and out of your seat. With her powerful voice as background, I remain transfixed on both her and the performance: one part horrified (how on earth did he do that?.... Oh god, please don’t fall!) and many parts amazed. Time and again, I find myself clutching at my face, squealing as though I were a teenager at a Beatles concert. By the end of the show, my neck hurts from looking up, my jaw hurts from laughing and my throat hurts from screaming. The lights come up and I step back outside, the smile planted firmly on my face. I barely notice it’s still raining.

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