A surprising thing happened to me over the July 4 holiday: I almost laughed at a clown. Hard to believe, I know. Clowns these days tend to be homicidal maniacs, spooky pedophiles, or depressing drunks who can’t get another job. But legend has it that, once upon a time, clowns were circus characters who did funny things, and people loved them. A crazy notion, sure—but hey, check your history. People used to laugh at clowns all the time.
Okay, I’ll admit it wasn’t exactly a clown. It was a dog—or a man in a dog suit—that was chasing some clowns. At one point, it paused on the stage about 10 feet in front of me, lifted its leg as if it was going to pee (almost funny, but not quite)—then let loose an actual stream of liquid! As the liquid splashed on the floor near my feet, I swear my face muscles contracted and I could feel a little spasm in my lungs—not enough to actually laugh, but pretty close.
All of this almost-hilarity came courtesy of Cirque du Soleil, which has pitched its tent in St. Paul’s Lowertown for the next month to present Kooza , its latest creation, a show that is said to honor Cirque’s roots in the arts of acrobatics and clowning. What this means to folks who have seen other Cirque du Soleil shows such as Mystere , O , and Zumanity , is less bizarre, dreamy pageantry and more bonafide circus stunts. And a few clowns, in the form of an idiot king and his two sidekicks, who resurrect a lot of Three Stooges-type slapstick—something that was also supposedly funny at one time.
Fortunately, between homages to the lost art of clowning, there are plenty of superb acrobatics to keep you entertained, all performed to high-octane, pseudo-operatic prog-rock blasted so loud you can feel it in the back of your teeth. You may be watching a guy stack stairs to the ceiling and doing handstands on top of them, but the pounding drums and wailing soprano goddess say it’s so much more—it’s really a heroic, gravity-defying odyssey of mind over chair, a consummate demonstration of superior gymnastic skill—an epic conquering of all common sense whatsoever!
Yes, you’ll see the rubbery contortionist girls, the swinging trapeze lady, the dual-level tightrope walkers, the teeter-totter flip-flyers, the dancing unicyclist, and much more—all performed by the best acrobats in the world. In the second act, they throw in even more Cirque-like spectacle, with a gang of dancing skeletons and a glittery specter of death who makes it pretty clear that the following acts are extra-dangerous. Death-defying, you might say.
For my money, though, the most impressive act was the humble juggler. Using nothing but his hands—no gimmicks or apparatuses—the man juggled balls and pins and rings like no one else I’ve ever seen. He also made me laugh, genuinely, at the insanity of his juggling genius. Pure skill and exquisite showmanship—it was magic.
And isn’t that what you go to Cirque du Soleil for—to see stuff you’re never going to see anywhere else? Trust me, if you go to Kooza , you’re never going to see a better juggler, or girls with bendier bones—or better circus performers anywhere. You might even laugh at a clown. Almost.
Kooza continues through Aug. 2, at the Cirque du Soleil tent in St. Paul’s Lowertown,