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Cirque du Soleil's Kooza Under the Big Tent in Santa Monica

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You know the feeling: It's when your stomach lands in your mouth at the apex of a rollercoaster. Watching the two guys work the “Wheel of Death” at Cirque du Soleil’s Kooza in Santa Monica on Thursday night elicited the same exact sensation.

What’s the Wheel of Death? Imagine two human-sized hamster wheels on either ends of a huge metal lever. This contraption rotates by gravity and the momentum of the two Cirque artists on either end. The two acrobats do twists, turns and spins inside and outside the hamster wheels while going a high rates of speed. It’s an adrenaline rush--just watching--and just one of the highlights of this Cirque show.

A little background info about the now-ubiquitous brand: Cirque began in Montreal in 1984 with about 20 street performers. The organization has grown--by leaps and bounds (pun intended)--to now performing 20 different shows simultaneously throughout the world. Kooza returns close to Cirque origins, focusing on two circus staples: acrobatics and clowning. Like many Cirque haters newbies, we didn’t expect much from the show. You’ve seen one high-wire or unicycle act set to cheesy Celine Dion-like music, you’ve seen them all, right?