Friday, September 25, 2009

Interview with new artistic director of Cirque du Soleil's Kooza- Melanie Lalande

Cirque du Soleil's newest show Kooza, now playing in Denver, Colorado, will open at the Santa Monica Pier in Los Angeles on October 16 for a limited run until November 29 in the familiar blue and yellow big top. Derived from the Sanskrit word 'koza' which means 'box' or 'treasure', Kooza was chosen as the title to fulfill the concept 'circus in a box'. Melanie Lalande, the new US artistic director of Kooza, a former dance instructor in the DC area, told me more about this intriguing production.

Q: I love Cirque du Soleil. I feel like a kid anticipating each new production. In the press release Kooza is described as being set in an 'exotic world full of surprises, thrills, chills, audacity and total involvement'. That pretty much describes every Cirque show. What specifically makes Kooza stand apart?
ML: Kooza is fascinating because it's really a throwback to the original roots of circus: high level acrobatics, and an emphasis definitely on the clowning. David Shiner is the director of the show and it's pretty phenomenal in that respect. And it goes back to the real precisional circus acts. That will make it stand out a little bit from the other shows.

Q: By traditional circus acts, you mean like juggling, right?
ML: Juggling, highwire, trapeze, yes!

Q: Are the highwire and trapeze artists the same people who have been working right along for Cirque du Soleil?
ML: Most of the ones who are with us have been doing their traditional acts in every circus for 35 years. Cirque du Soleil is so proud and happy to have them become part of our family.

Q: For me, the sets, the costumes, the lighting design, the music - they all add to make the performance extra special. You never know what to expect. Will you give our readers a sneak preview of the surprises in Kooza?
ML: Again, it's back to the traditional circus, so you have what you would see there. Our bataclan travels back and forth on the stage; it is a huge moving figure with phenomenal depth and dynamics.
Q: It sounds like a machine. Is that correct?
ML: Yep. It rides along the stage, and the band sits on top of it. It's amazing.
Q: That image enlivens my curiosity; I can't wait to see it.

Q: Tell me about your background in choreography. I understand you worked on the hiphop act The Roots.
ML: I have a very traditional background in dance. I have my BFA in dance. When one of my longterm employers came to me and asked, "Will you choreograph one of the hiphop tours for
us?" ...and it happened to be for The Roots, out of my mouth popped "Yes!" That's not necessarily my roots, so it was a real challenge for me... as much as coming to say "I know how to run a circus!" You're not necessarily doing ballet or jazz; you're watching a teeterboard artist who's performing in mid air. You're keeping track of that physically, aesthetically...I find that there's that underlying gut feeling about performance and it's what's made me successful even when I step ouside of my immediate genre. I think that's why I can go into different venues like circus or hiphop tours and find as much connection with the performers as I do in dance or choreography.
Q: That gut feeling you get when you dance is similar to the gut feeling an actor gets when he performs. It becomes so strong in you, you can translate it to just about anything.
ML: It sure does! It's the same thing the clowns are looking for!

Q: This marks the 25th anniversary year for Cirque. Is that the reason Kooza is going back to where it all started?
ML: Absolutely! And they also have a real special tie going out to the Santa Monica Pier. In 1984 Guy Laliberte the founder decided to risk it all. He put his business on the line; they were either going to do a show or have enough gas to get home (Quebec, Canada). Either go big or go home! Thankfully, they were successful, so it's all very sentimental and close to Guy's heart.

Q: Adults of all ages love this circus. It redefines the whole idea of what a circus is supposed to be. When I was a kid, it was lions and elephants. Cirque is a people circus.
ML: It takes you on that journey where you can dream and where you can think. Things that seem impossible you see being done before your eyes. That's a gift that every human needs
to be in contact with.

Q: Any special guest stars from Europe in Kooza?
ML: I have 53 artists representing 16 different countries all over the world. It's a very big running a small country.
Q: I can just imagine! You have your hands full as artistic director.

Q: If you had to define in a few words what is the most exciting aspect of what you're doing right now with Kooza, what would you say?
ML: I think it is literally the heart of the performers. These guys do 9-10 shows a week and you go with them. You're growing up a show. It grows up like a child right in front of your eyes. They're at such a level of expertise. They're always looking to finding a new moment of connection. It's like the living heart of a show; that's what this job is ... and it's so great!

Q: How long do the artists rehearse?
ML: The creative team works for about a year. They then get the artists in there and they maybe have 5 or 6 months to prepare...but the show has been in concept for a year to 2 years before that. You are kind of growing it up in your second're cleaning and tweaking and refining...and if the show ends up being the product everything centers around, in this business that's also very nice to be a part of.

Q: O in Las vegas is one of my favorite shows! It blew me away!
ML: It's a piece of artwork, isn't it? It takes you ona rollercoaster ride. Your emotions are going to be up and down; you're going to be laughing, then hoping somebody doesn't die. Kooza's a little more edgy as far as that goes, but O is beautiful, a piece of artwork.

Q: Melanie, thank you so much for your time. See you in LA!
ML: Thank you!
Judging by the photo above called Skeleton Dance, Kooza is indeed edgy. That edgy, traditional mix is what draws us like a magnet to each and every Cirque du Soleil show. Get in the groove!
Don't forget, Kooza opens October 16 at the Santa Monica Pier. To order tickets, go online to or phone 1-800-450-1480.

No comments: