28.06.2007 - Montreal
KOOZA Charms Montreal
Written and directed by David Shiner, KOOZA™ is the latest Cirque du Soleil® touring show and had its world premiere under the Grand Chapiteau on the Quais of the Old Port of Montreal on May 3, 2007. KOOZA is the 20th Cirque du Soleil production and has joined the twelve others currently running throughout the world.
|KOOZA is a return to the origins of Cirque du Soleil that combines two circus traditions — acrobatic performance and the art of clowning. “KOOZA is about human connection and the world of duality, good and bad,” says David Shiner. “The tone is funny, light and open. The show doesn’t take itself too seriously, but it’s very much about ideas, too. As it evolves we are exploring concepts such as fear, identity, recognition and power.” The show is set in an electrifying and exotic visual world full of surprises, thrills, chills, audacity and total evolvement.|
An interview with Leon Rothenberg, Co-Sound Designer of KOOZA.
Why has Cirque du Soleil chosen a Sanskrit word, KOOZA, for the new show? Are you also integrating Indian elements?
There’s a lot of Indian influences in the show, a lot of Indian music and Indian sensibility about the aesthetic. The bandstand, the bataclan, is reminiscient of a Royal Indian court, a Muselman court with a Hindu influence; it evokes that royal ancient Hindu kingdom feeling. KOOZA is based on a Sanskrit word which means jewelbox. There’s a lot of Indian-tinged music, there’s dancing… One of the singers is Indian and has done a lot of Indian pop music.
KOOZA plays under the Grand Chapiteau — what does the scene look like?
There are two main scenic elements; the first one is the bataclan, which is used for entrances and exits for the artists. The second level of it is the bandstand, and the third level is a kind of look-out post where the character of the king stands. There are canopies everywhere. The second main element is called the void. It’s a large canopy that is puppeteered and moves and breathes and closes down over the stage and opens back up again.
What are the special challenges for the sound?
It’s the tent that is special, a highly reflective, plastic-coated, weather-proofed canvass — sound bounces off it like a super bouncy rubber ball. The speaker focus has to be very tightly controlled to keep the sound on the audience and nowhere else. So the speakers are really focused right to the edge of the seating sections. The top of the line arrays just sort of hits the tops of the heads of the people in the back row, and we try and keep it off of the slope ceiling of the tent as much as possible. I mean you’re going to get a bounce anyway, you can’t avoid it, it’s just the nature of it. You just try to minimize it as much as possible.
In the usual circus tent, you wouldn’t expect such an excellent sound.
What we’re trying to do in a show like this is to give everybody a little bit more than what they would expect. You want to try to exceed expectations and create a sonic experience that fits the show, that draws you into it. We hope that people will say “Wow, it was really great; we felt a part of the show!” And we try to use the sound to do that.
Who of the artists are miked?
The clowns are miked. There’s three main clowns and there’s a pickpocket. He picks somebody out of the audience and steals everything from them. And there’s a jack hammer which is miked with an MKE 2 platinum. The two singers are miked. Teresa is more sort of a soul singer, and she’s using an
SKM 5200 handheld right now with the Neumann capsule. She’s got two big numbers, a show-stopper song and dance at the top of Act 2 and a great ballad at the end, during the Chinese Chair act. And then Tara, who’s the Indian singer, is miked with the SK 5212 and a boom mike. Oh, and there’s a percussion performance at the top of Act 2, before the Wheel of Death. There’s a skeleton costume, which is a percussive costume, and the percussionist is miked on his wrists; he’s got two mikes there.
You’re also using Sennheiser wireless monitoring systems. Who do you use the in-ears on?
A lot of times in Cirque du Soleil shows the musicians move around, they come down on stage; they come out into the audience, and they come out front. So any time that the musicians are moving around we have in-ears for them. For example, the drummer plays a drum solo down on stage, and he uses the wireless in-ears for that. Teresa uses the wireless in-ears because she’s moving around. Tara has a wireless for the whole show as well. And then during the big song and dance number at the top of Act 2 the main dancer’s wearing in-ears so he can hear the music better. He asked for them so he can keep in time.
The whole audio system from microphones to speakers through cables and everything is a great system. Jonathan Deans, who is my co-sound designer on this, put the system together and everything in the initial sessions and it was just great. And the guys, the crew, they love it. They are just so passionate about the show. They love playing with the system, it’s a great big toy and it’s theirs and they get to play with it every night!
What’s the frequency situation like? Where there any problems in finding free frequencies?
No, because you did it! Sennheiser is an official supplier of KOOZA, and does the frequency coordination for us. Sennheiser also re-tunes or trades up our equipment when the show goes to Europe or Asia which is part of the reason why I decided to go with Sennheiser for this one — it was a good fit for the show. The thing about a touring show like this is that you’re outside. You’re often near an airport or near transportation hubs because you are on a parking lot, and there’s a lot of RF flying around. So you really have to limit your wireless to what you need. We had a meeting months ago where we funneled the wireless needs into just the minimum. We figured out what we really needed to do the show, and cut it down — because too many wireless just becomes a nightmare when you’re moving all over the world and you got a show that depends on it. It becomes very difficult to do outside. We’ve got the four in-ears and then 10 or 12 wireless mics that get used in the show at various times. And then I think there might be some wireless DMX, and there are things in other ranges that get used.
What about the Sennheiser wireless equipment for KOOZA?
For this show it was the right choice, also based on the service that was going to be provided by Sennheiser. It was a lot more expensive than what we were looking at at the beginning and it was a risk also to use a new product which was the SK 5212. I certainly did a lot of asking around before I made that decision. I knew some other shows where people just started using them and I talked to them. “Tell me about the battery life, tell me how it sounds, tell me everything! What’s the thorn in your side with this new system? What do you love about it?” And I got good feedback all around, so, even though it was a lot more money it was the right thing to do, because of the service, because of the sound and everything. I’m glad I did it. You never know beforehand what the right choice is going to be — you never know; from year to year one company’s doing this and another company’s doing that and it changes and sometimes there’s a clear choice and sometimes there’s not and sometimes this choice changes. So you never want to be locked into ‘this is how I do it every time’. But I am very happy with the 5212. The first time we turned them on — great, fantastic. So you’re on top. For now!
Comparing KOOZA with other Cirque du Soleil shows, what was different, special for this show?
Well, I don’t know about different, but what was special for me about this show was that the creative team was really great, and really got along very well. Everybody worked really well together, everybody was straightforward… I’m not saying that that’s unique in Cirque du Soleil or that’s never happened before, because certainly it has, but, for me, working on the show, it was very nice. It really felt like we were a bunch of friends working on a small show that we were going to put on for a bunch of friends, except that it was Cirque du Soleil and it was an enormous undertaking! And David, David Shiner, the director, was always very open to ideas, always wanted to hear ideas, wanted you to say what you thought honestly. Everybody wanted an honest answer to everything.. You always knew where you stood, which is good. You either keep going in that direction or you throw it away and try something else. And there’s a lot of sound too besides the music, there’s a lot of sound effects and ambiences that play a major role in the soundscape of the whole show and the soundtrack. David comes from a clown background, so everything’s a sound effect; everything has a sound effect with it.
What was the most hilarious thing that happened during the rehearsals?
I don’t know, every day there’s something, I mean, the director’s a clown. So, every day is hilarious. Every day something happens that’s funny, and the clowns were just off the wall. They were always improvising, and coming up with new things, and working on new things. Never serious. They were very professional when it comes down to it, but we never stopped laughing.
What is your personal favorite act in the show?
Which do I like best? They all terrify me. You know, it’s hard to say which is a favorite. The 2nd act opens with the Wheel of Death — it’s a fantastic opening, the 1st Act closes with the High Wire, it’s incredible. The show opens with the contortionists and it’s a really amazing style of contortion act — very active, very dynamic and moving. The Chinese Chair is just beautiful. We have one of the best jugglers in the world. How do you compare when you have such a high calibre of things? The teeterboard at the end — they’re jumping off a seesaw on stilts. It’s — wow!
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