Hot Happenings - 05/02/18

A Glimpse Backstage at Kooza

Written by Christy Chiu

We take a peek behind the curtain of Cirque Du Soleil’s world-renowned production of KOOZA as the touring circus descends upon Hong Kong’s Central Harbourfront.

On April 19th, Cirque du Soleil’s touring production of Kooza opened in Hong Kong to a packed crowd and much fanfare. The light-hearted and awe-inspiring theatrical performance is a throwback to the more traditional style of circus show, and features some hilarious old-school clowning as well as a range of death-defying acrobatic stunts sure to set even the pluckiest of hearts racing. Having already drawn in a global audience of over 7 million people since its much-lauded premiere in Montreal in 2007, the family-friendly production is sure to wow Hong Kong as the company’s iconic blue and yellow marquee proudly takes over the city’s Central Harbourfront Event Space from now until June 3rd, 2018.

As the largest theatrical producer in the world, Cirque du Soleil has been delighting and inspiring audiences for over three decades, and has now brought their much-loved production of KOOZA to Hong Kong for the very first time. Returning to its origins, KOOZA combines two of the most traditional circus tricks, acrobatics and clowning, and elevates them into some truly top-notch performances. Highlights include gravity-defying aerial shows, almost inconceivable contortion acts and a jaw-dropping high-wire bicycle performance.

At KOOZA’s helm is seasoned art director Dean Harvey, a former dancer turned choreographer whose exuberance, it has to be said, lights up a room. ‘My job generally is to make sure that we’re presenting the best show possible, every night. I wish I could say that it’s the exact same show every night, but it’s not,’ he says, laughing. From handling last-minute changes to the cast to keeping a critical eye on rehearsals, Dean is ultimately responsible for making sure that the show goes on without a hitch, regardless of whatever might be going on behind the scenes.

One of the biggest challenges in working on such a multinational show, he says, is the inherent language barrier. The international cast and crew of around 120 people comprises of no less than 21 nationalities, resulting in some rather amusing communication complications. ‘I have never worked with a group of people of so many nationalities. There are often times when I’d say something and it would get misinterpreted or lost in translation along the way. Then someone will turn around to me and say something completely different, and I’d be like, “wait, what did you say?” I’ve come to accept the language barriers – it’s almost as if we have our own vernacular now!’ This range of nationalities, though at times confusing, is one of the many reasons Dean loves working with KOOZA. “What excites me about KOOZA is the people, from where they come from to what they bring to the show. That in itself is just fascinating and wonderful. I learn from them just as much as I can teach them.’

Amongst KOOZA’s international cast of 50 performers is the gifted aerial straps artist Haley Viloria. Haley first saw KOOZA in San Francisco in 2007 and has devoted her life to honing her skills of flying through the air on two cotton and kevlar sewn loops ever since. Fast-forward 10 years and she’s now performing the very role that, in her words, changed her life. Like her peers, Haley follows a strict regimen prior to each and every performance. Her days begin early, and usually consist of at least 6-7 hours of physical training and, of course, rehearsals. Before every show, Cirque du Soleil performers are expected to apply their own makeup, a task that can take between 1-2 hours, depending on their individual skill level. But none of these arduous training sessions or routines deter her from relishing every moment, both on and off stage. ‘I don’t get nervous before show, I get excited. So it becomes more about calming myself down,’ the artist remarks. Fuelled by her unstoppable passion, she still looks forward to and enjoys each of her Kooza performances as if they were her first.

As the head of KOOZA’s wardrobe team, Alex Surridge is responsible for all 3,000 individual pieces of costume used in the show, and works alongside a tight-knit team of two assistants, as well as with four local temps. Every Cirque du Soleil costume, mask, and other adornment is custom-made from a wide array of richly-coloured fabric and adorned with jewels and feathers galore. On top of every piece being painstakingly hand-detailed, the costumes of course have to be fully functional, breathable and hard-wearing. The aim, according to Alex, “is to make the artists feel like they’re not even wearing costumes. We want them to be able to move as freely as possible’. In order to achieve this, upon first joining the production, artists are sent to Montreal to get a complete 3d body scan. ‘The body scan includes a 3D print of their head and a full-body measurement involving hundreds of measurements, meticulously done. This way, every artist gets their own custom-made costumes, wigs, and hats’.

The wardrobe team’s daily duties includes an incredible amount of stitching, maintenance, and laundry. ‘Because of the nature of working with acrobats, we have to be really careful about safety,’ Alex explains. ‘After getting all the costumes washed, we make sure we examine every single item down to the smallest detail, just double and triple-checking so as to make sure that there are no loose threads that they can slip or trip on. It’s pretty time-consuming but it stops us from getting lazy. I think that’s our main thing. Just making sure that we’re always staying on it.’

It’s safe to say that without the combined efforts of those both in front of and behind the scenes, it is unlikely that Cirque du Soleil would have endured the years as well as it has. Since its official opening on April 19, hundreds have already swarmed over to the Big Top to witness the terrifying Wheel of Death and Twin High Wire acts for themselves. What with the many and varied acrobatic wonders and the clever clowning intervals, not to mention the sensational sound and lighting effects coupled with the intricately designed costumes, KOOZA is a show with something special to offer everyone that will have you on the edge of your seat.

When: From 19 April (Thursday) to 3 June (Sunday)
Where: Central Harbourfront Event Space, 9 Lung Wo Road, Central, Hong Kong
How much: From HKD$488 to HKD$1,888
www.cirquedusoleil.com/kooza

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