1. Life & Culture

The colorful characters of Cirque du Soleil's 'Kooza'

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Published Nov. 21, 2012

Jason Berrent, the Trickster

The Trickster wears a stretched-wool suit with colorful stripes inspired by the superheroes of comic books. "My costume is a representation of power," Berrent, 29, says. "The president wears a suit. The owner of a bank wears a suit. It gives the Trickster an image of status and masculinity."

Jimmy Ibarra Zapata

Wheel of Death

Cedric Belisle

The Innocent

Ron Campbell

The King

Sean Kempton and Colin Heath


Kooza, which means "box" in Sanskrit, is billed as a return to the origins of Cirque du Soleil in street clowning and acrobatics, and it is certainly that, with at least half a dozen clown characters and a lot of the dreaded audience participation. It is also one of Cirque's most beautiful shows, with richly detailed set design (by Stéphane Roy) and ravishing costumes and makeup (by Marie-Chantale Vaillancourt and Florence Cornet). And, of course, the athletic derring-do is breathtaking in numbers like the Wheel of Death, Balancing on Chairs and the Double High Wire. Here are a few of the performers of Kooza, photographed in a box.

"I do my hoops for 18 years," says Akimova, 30, from a Russian town that is 16 hours from Moscow by train and then another hour by bus. "I'm always asking myself how long I can do this. I also need to think about family and kids. I'm single. Maybe five, 10 years more. I would like in the future to train another girl and give my number to her if I can find her or she finds me."

"My character basically represents the good, the innocence, the purity of the world," Belisle, 22, says. "He's never experienced life. He's always tried to fly his kite, and it's never worked. And then the Trickster appears and makes him discover the world of Kooza."

Ibarra Zapata, 32, from Colombia, has been performing the Wheel of Death more than half his life, drawing gasps from audiences as he flies through the air and skips rope from the top of a giant rotating set of wheels. "Before I go into the act, I pray to be safe," he says. "I say to God, take care of me. I feel I have angels that protect me. I believe in that."

"The King is kind of the head buffoon," Campbell says. "I may have high status over the other clowns, but I'm also probably the stupidest clown, the biggest doofus." As an actor, Campbell has played classical roles like Cyrano, Richard III and Don Quixote. "Your theater audience might appreciate a nice turn of phrase. This is more like a fight audience. They will cheer the winners. They will give you immediate feedback if something's not funny."

"We're agents of chaos," Kempton, top, says. "We run around and sweat a lot and cause a lot of trouble. There's nowhere to hide from us."

"Sean and I ramp each other up in terms of mischief," Heath says. "He's the ideal playmate. There are moments in the show when neither of us knows what's going to happen. We put our toe across the line and see how far we can go. That's what we live for."

Irina Akimova

Hoops Manipulation