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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?

Wrong. Kooza was a theatrical spectacle of a circus. The action came fast and furious, and the filler audience participation acts were full of surprises. Yes, there were flashes of cheesy music (you can take the Canadians out of Canada...) but the live band rocked and included a few Bollywood-lite touches to the tunes.

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Ouch | Photo: Cirque du Soleil

Other acts that impressed us were the unicyclist who did tricks with a partner around the ring and the contortionists. You think your advanced yoga class is hard? That’s a cakewalk compared to the synchronized moves of the three women contortionists at Kooza. They were amazing: We swear we saw one of them walk around her own head on the ground; and we watched another do a backbend with her head ending up in between her own legs. It was one of those acts where half the audience had their eyes closed and the other half had their jaws in their laps.Two things, however, we would have liked to see changed: Maybe a shorter intermission with the addition of more women’s restrooms. Right now the show is clocking in at about three hours--which is long time to be at any circus. Even one where the clowns aren't that scary.

Cirque du Soleil's Kooza
Santa Monica Pier
Tues.-Thurs at 8 pm
Fri.-Sat at 4 and 8 pm
Sunday at 1 and 5 pm
Adult tickets from $60-$125, but big thanks to Caroline on Crack for telling us about the Goldstar discounted tickets.

*Parking is tricky. It's Santa Monica, after all. You can pre-pay for the $5 Civic Center lot with free shuttle service to the pier, but getting out from the top levels of the garage will take about 20 minutes.