upper waypoint

‘Kooza’ Is a Classic, Thrilling Cirque du Soleil Show, Now in San Francisco

Save ArticleSave Article
Failed to save article

Please try again

Three women in leotards contorting their bodies into a balancing pose.
Contortionists Sunderiya Jargalsaikhan, Ninjin Altankhuyag and Sender Enkhtur, all of Mongolia, perform in Cirque du Soleil's 'Kooza.' (Matt Beard & Bernard Letendre)

First of all: the core strength.

My goodness. It’s consistently jaw-dropping what Cirque du Soleil acrobats can do with their bodies and balance and flexibility. Just had to get that out of the way.

Kooza, now playing in San Francisco through March 17 before heading to San Jose in April, is a classic Cirque du Soleil show in all the good ways: dazzling tricks and feats of strength, accompanied by a live band performing world music mashups, and interwoven with some old-fashioned clowning.

Kooza was the first Cirque du Soleil show I ever attended. It was 2009, and I used my grad student discount (speaking of discounts, if you’re not picky about seat selection, you can almost always find discounted tickets on Travelzoo for select Cirque du Soleil dates). I remember the excitement, even before the show started, of being in a big-top tent.

Three clowns in colorful clothes make funny faces.
The Clowns of Cirque du Soleil’s ‘Kooza.’ (Matt Beard & Bernard Letendre)

Cirque du Soleil and I go way back, to before that first live show. I first saw their acts on TV, when they aired as HBO specials in the late ’80s and early ’90s, before they became the massive, world-touring extravaganza of today. Today, they give me all the nostalgic feels; my sister and I collect show experiences like my nephew collects Pokémon cards.


So I was happy to revisit Kooza 15 years later, and brought my 8-year old nephew along for his first Cirque experience. His favorite segment — mine too — was “The Wheel of Death,” which opened the second half of the show under red lighting, accompanied by ominous music. It was just the right amount of eerie-creepy.

A costumed man leaps in the air above a cylinder contraption.
Performers Jimmy Ibarra Zapata and Angelo Lyezkysky Rodriguez of Colombia in ‘The Wheel of Death’ act of Cirque du Soleil’s ‘Kooza’. (Matt Beard & Bernard Letendre)

The clowns of Kooza are another standout, a Three Stooges-style trio that kept my nephew laughing. There’s a moment where they pull an audience member on stage, and next thing you know, you’re cheerleading a miming improv session. (Thankfully, the person selected on the night I went was a great sport, with a good sense of humor.)

And if you’re wondering if Cirque is truly a place where any and all creativity can run free, just look at Kooza’s costumes, designed by Marie Chantale Vaillancourt. A costume that’s part devil, jester and merman all at once? Why not? How about Día de los Muertos-meets-Beetlejuice-meets carnaval? Sure! It’s wacky, it’s the circus, it’s the vibe.

Performers in skeleton costumes with feather headdresses stand on stage.
A scene from the ‘Skeleton Dance’ act of Cirque du Soleil’s ‘Kooza’. (Matt Beard & Bernard Letendre)

Not exactly notable in Kooza are the soundtrack and the story, which centers on a sweet, naive clown looking for his place in the world. I’ve seen better, more cohesive storylines (the dreamy Corteo, which ran last year at Oakland Arena, comes to mind). But do you go to a Cirque du Soleil show for the plot? Of course not.

So where does Kooza rank among the handful of Cirque productions I’ve seen? It’s in the middle of the pack, but still worth a visit. Cirque du Soleil remains a solid brand that consistently produces moments where you think to yourself, “Oh, I know they’re not about to do that…” Yet, indeed, they proceed to do that. And it’s stunning.

‘Kooza’ plays now through March 17 under the big top next to Oracle Park in San Francisco, and in San Jose from April 18–May 26. Details and ticket info here.

lower waypoint
next waypoint