Feature this: A steel ring 6 feet across spins several feet above the ground. Beside it is a twin steel ring, and they rotate around each other.
Now add this: Each ring has a track inside — not unlike a mammoth hamster wheel — and a sinewy performer runs on the track in each ring.
At one point, one of the artists leaps out of the inner wheel and races on top of it as it spins and rotates around the other ring. Are you reaching for your Dramamine yet?
“Wheel of Death” is the appropriate name Cirque du Soleil has given to this eye-popping, heart-pumping performance in “Kooza,” the 2007 production making its way back to the Bay Area, with shows running through March 10 under the near San Francisco’s Oracle Park. The Montreal super troupe’s Big Tent hasn’t been in the area since 2019, and its San Francisco run is followed by a San Jose engagement in April and May.
“Kooza’s” finale is equally gobsmacking: An artist (Cirque calls its performers artists, and you can see why) stands on stilts 6 feet above the ground. He focuses on a massive teeterboard below him, balanced on a fulcrum. As he jumps on top of it, four men leap onto the other end of the board, pushing Stilt-Man way into the stratosphere. He flips several times, landing perfectly on his stilted feet.
How does Cirque keep its artists alive? Publicist Julie Desmarais said its directors invest much research into its acts’ impact and safety requirements: “We push the boundaries of acrobatics. We make tricks that have never been seen before. We do a lot of analysis and research in the physics of impact. We always ask ourselves: Can we make it work?”
They make it work. Cirque creates a new act about every two years.
If the teeterboard is the finale, what the heck happens between these acts?
“Kooza” is about The Innocent tempted along life’s path by a flashy miscreant.
Elizaveta Parmenova, a Muscovite who has been flipping through the air for Cirque for nine years and is understudy for The Innocent, said “Kooza’s” story “is like a beautiful fairy tale of life. Everybody can feel it in their heart.”
Offstage, Cirque artists’ training takes place on what appears to be a volleyball court, where they head-butt a ball over a net to each other without using their hands. In the corner, a gymnast attempts to crush a trampoline with his mighty thrusts.
Cirque’s core performers and staff number nearly 150, and local workers are hired to assist. On a recent afternoon, Dennis Vanta, a costumier from San Jose, was busy tending to the detail on a vermilion cap.
“Kooza” has 4,000 articles of costume, a separate trailer for air-conditioning (it gets hot continuously being thrown up and down) and tends to the families of the many performers and crew members who travel with the company.
Cirque du Soleil’s“Kooza” continues through March 10 under the Big Tent in Oracle Park’s Parking Lot A, San Francisco, and runs April 18 to May 25 at the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds, 344 Tully Road, San Jose. Tickets are $30 to $324 and higher at cirquedusoleil/kooza.