DALLAS -- When you have an act called "Wheel of Death," that should tell you it's going be a thrilling night at the circus. More specifically in this case, Cirque du Soleil's Kooza, which is playing for five weeks under white tents in downtown Dallas, near Reunion Tower.
Cirque's shows are always colorful, fantastical and enjoyable -- we rarely tire of them, even after seeing them over and over again. But the best Cirque shows are those early ones, with innovative twists on circus acts and an equal emphasis on the art of clowning, such as in the best Cirque show, Quidam. Kooza, which debuted in 2007, is similarly memorable, with a character called The Innocent flying his kite (similar to the umbrella in Quidam) and meeting various characters, including Trickster, The King, Pickpocket, Bad Dog and a bizarre underground electrical creature called Heimloss. The clowning, which often relies on audience participation (another Cirque staple), is excellent.
But it's the thrill of the circus feats that makes Kooza so electrifying. The hoops manipulation, contortion, teeterboard, chair balancing and solo trapeze are all standard, but each manages to find a new way to excite. The Unicycle Duo, with a man riding a unicycle as he lifts a woman over and around his head and body, is one of the highlights.
Bicycles make an appearance in the breathless high-wire act. Four high-wire walkers gallop across the wire above the stage, then ride bikes across it, and balance a guy in a chair on a bar secured between the shoulders of men on two bikes. There's a net below, but there were still some gasp-inducing bobbles Wednesday.
The act that really gets heartbeats racing is the Wheel of Death. A large contraption with a wheel at either end, it rotates as the men, resembling luchadores, run inside and outside their wheels. When each wheel is at the top of the tent, the men leap and seem suspended in air for enough seconds to inspire wonderment.
Preceding this show's visit to Dallas was the unsatisfying Michael Jackson Immortal show. Kooza restores our faith in the Cirque-verse.