Next-gen Cirque du Soleil comes to The City in ‘Kooza’

A troika of San Francisco contortionists roll into a circus tent and …

It’s no joke. Locals Natasha Patterson, 11, Julie Bergez, 14, and Dasha Sovik, 16, did just that and nabbed a prime spot in “Kooza,” the latest offspring of Cirque du Soleil. The young girls, formerly of The Mystic Pixies, make their debut in the U.S. premiere of the show, which opens Friday.

Think of “Kooza” as “Cirque: The New Generation,” something writer-director David Shiner says is an exhilarating return to the roots of Cirque’s origins — with a twist. It unites two circus traditions: acrobatic performance and the art of clowning. The end result promises to deliver one of most exhilarating Cirques to date.

“There’s a lot of commotion in the show,” Shiner says. “You’re scared. You’re moved. You laugh. You wonder. You are in awe. It’s like a roller coaster ride and that’s what I wanted. I wanted it to be deeply emotional.”

He also wanted it to be frightening. To that end, audiences can expect a jaw-dropping high-wire act, a “wheel of death” and nearly 20 acrobats doing what Cirque acrobats do best — shock and awe.

But planning the new Cirque experience proved challenging. “Cirque was already established and I didn’t want to look like a copycat,” Shiner says. “It was challenging to find an original idea — something that didn’t really look Cirque-like but was Cirque — to stage within the idea the world of Cirque.”

It took three years for Shiner and Co. to get there. There were hundreds of potential performers to sift through and Shiner’s vision for the show — a “back to basics and then some” theme had to gestate.

This may seem most evident in the actual set, which veers away from traditional Cirque atmospheres. In “Kooza,” a public square transforms into a circus ring and all attempts to disguise the acrobatic equipment are dismissed. It’s an all-in-the-open setting. Of interest may be the set’s traveling tower, which occasionally alters the configuration of the performance space.

As for the major characters — a Cirque staple — in between a king, a clown and a trickster, audiences may get a kick out of the Heimloss, a mysterious figure that lives underneath the stage and is in charge of all of the mechanical machinery.

Overall, Shiner thinks the circus is deeply symbolic.

“It’s very primal, very raw and archetypical,” he says “You look at it and you go, ‘Oh, it’s a circus. There’s a juggler and clowns and so on,’ but it’s symbolically very powerful. I think it touches a very deep human core within us.”

It also touches a nerve. To date, more than 70 million people have attended a Cirque du Soleil performance since its Canadian debut in 1984.

Kooza

Presented by Cirque du Soleil

Where: Grand Chapiteau, AT&T Park parking lot, Third and Terry A. Francois streets, 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. 13

Tickets: $38.50 to $90

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

Note: The show will be at the Taylor Street Bridge in San Jose from Feb. 19 through March 2.

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