Cirque du Soleil deftly premieres

Cirque du Soleil’s “Kooza,” making its U.S. premiere in San Francisco, exemplifies why the French Canadian super troupe is simply the brand in boutique circuses.

“Kooza” comes from the Sanskrit word koza, which means box or treasure; the delightful show under the big top near AT&T Park serves up plenty of charm and thrills.

Writer-director David Shiner says the company has returned to the basics for this installment, and it works. Not overly packed with high concepts, the show’s focus is on awe-inspiring stunts and classic-type clowning in the stylish (but not too stylish) atmosphere for which Cirque is known.

Complementing the action is bold live music that veers from world to jazz to rock. It’s a refreshing change from the ethereal New Age sound that has given some other Cirque shows an overly serious tone.

Here, the journey is one of fun and power. Each act is more involving than the next, starting with contortionists Julie Bergez, Natasha Patterson and Dasha Sovik, whose fluidity and agility boggle the mind.

On the solo trapeze, Darya Vintilova rocks the house.

A romantic unicycle act with Diana Aleschenko and Yury Shavro is unlike anything you’ve seen before, while the dazzling four-man high-wire act featuring members of the Quiros-Dominguez families has the fellows riding bicycles in midair.

Pickpocket Michael Halvarson got the better of ABC-TV reporter Don Sanchez, who was plucked from the audience for the funny bit, while juggler Anthony Gatto amazed and astounded, as did Zhang Gongli, who balanced on his hands atop chairs that were piled almost to the top of the big tent.

But perhaps most thrilling of all were Jimmy Ibarra Zapata and Carlos Enrique Marin Loaiza on the wheel of death, an act not unfamiliar to circusgoers, but entirely new — and heart-stopping — in Cirque’s one-of-a-kind setting.

IF YOU GO

Kooza

Presented by Cirque du Soleil

Where: Grand Chapiteau, AT&T Park parking lot, Third Street and Terry A. Francois Boulevard, San Francisco

When: 8 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays; 4 and 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 1 and 5 p.m. Sundays; closes Jan. 20 Tickets: $38.50 to $90

Contact: (800) 678-5440; www.cirquedusoleil.com 

lkatz@examiner.com

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